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Successful Aging


The concept of successful aging, which appeared early in studies of aging, has sometimes been equated with life satisfaction or happiness, and, sometimes with good health or with longevity. A more comprehensive definition of successful aging would combine all three of these elements: longevity (without which successful aging is impossible), health (lack of disability), and happiness (life satisfaction).

M. Powell Lawton (1983) has defined ‘‘the good life’’ (in old age) as consisting of four independent dimensions:

  1. Behavioral competence (health, perception, motor behavior, and cognition)
  2. Psychological well-being (happiness, optimism, congruence between desired and attained goals)
  3. Perceived quality of life (subjective assessment of family, friends, activities, work, income, and housing)
  4. Objective environment (realities of housing, neighborhood, income, work, activities, etc.)

More recently, Rowe and Kahn have urged a distinction between usual and successful aging within the category of normal, or nonpathological, aging. They define usual aging as aging in which extrinsic factors heighten the effects of intrinsic aging processes (normal functional decrements); whereas successful aging refers to aging in which extrinsic factors counteract intrinsic aging, so that there is little or no functional loss. Successful aging thus includes three key characteristics:

  1. Low risk of disease and disease-related disability
  2. High mental and physical function
  3. Active engagement with life

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 4Successful Aging - Definitions, Causes, Avoiding Disease And Disability, Maintaining Mental Function, Engagement With Life, Heredity