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Successful aging goes beyond good physical health

Teater B & Chonody JM. How do older adults define successful aging? A scoping review The International Journal of Aging and Human Development. 2020;91(4):599-625.

Review question

      How do older adults define successful aging? 


      The experience of aging is influenced by culture, resources, societal expectations, and the individuals’ lived experiences. 

      In the scientific literature, successful aging often refers to health promotion, activity and other positive aspects of wellness. However, these ideas were developed without the input of older adults and their experiences have been excluded in these definitions. 

      Since aging is a subjective experience, theories of aging should incorporate various views on gender, culture, health status and other social determinants of health.

      This review aims to identify older adults’ perspectives on successful aging to provide a more holistic definition.

How the review was done

      A detailed search of five electronic databases for literature published between 2002 and 2017 was conducted. Studies that discussed the aspects of successful aging from the perspective of older adults were included. 

      A total of 366 studies were identified in the initial database search, and 22 studies were included in the final review. 

      No financial support was provided for the publication of this review.

What the researchers found

      The review identified 12 main themes that explored older adults’ views and experiences in regards to successful aging: 1) social relationships; 2) positive thinking; 3) being healthy; 4) financial security; 5) acceptance; 6) engagement with life; 7) spirituality; 8) the social environment; 9) autonomy; 10) cognitive health; 11) physical activity; and 12) a good death. 

      Older adults are aware that aging comes with certain changes that may be out of their control such as decreased mobility, disease, disability, chronic illness, and sensory impairments. However, they are also aware that positive thinking, spirituality, acceptance and autonomy can help to alleviate the burden associated with these physical challenges. 

      External factors such as finances, geographical location and social policies were also discussed among older adults as factors that can help or hinder one’s ability to age successfully.


      This review found that older adults are realistic and aware of the natural changes that occur in the later stages of life. They understand that these changes cannot be avoided and rely on social and psychological support to adapt, accept and move forward with a positive attitude.

      The findings from this review support the notion that resilience and strength should be encouraged among older adults in order to ensure successful aging.

      Future research should incorporate the perspectives of older adults among different ethnocultural background, nationality, social class, sexual orientation and geographical location.

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