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Aging or Successful aging?

We are all growing old, but the quality of our aging is related to our actions earlier than we expect. Since the development of the successful aging concept, much has changed about what age and quality of life stand for. One of the challenges is to improve the media concept of "being old" to a more benign one because we do not just "get old", the way we take care now is essential (but not determinant) for our future.

Biologically, aging is the "transformation of an organism that leads to a higher risk of weakness, disease and death" (Alvarado and Salazar, 2014). Nonetheless, every culture has its visions and narratives about the aging process. However, there is a stigma related to it. It is seen as something negative, creating rejection among people, especially those near the stage of notorious aging.

Because of the rejection and also, the illusion of delay aging by following certain lifestyles and beauty products: there is a whole market related to anti-aging products and procedures, like plastic surgery, if hidden, the better. With such connotation is not easy to have in mind that is just a part of the vital cycle. There are myths and stereotypes about aging. We all age; it is a mandatory condition of our existence.

Aging is considered a public health problem for national and international institutions because the population pyramid has changed a lot in later decades, having more aged people as never seen in history. Many authors (Alvarado and Salazar, 2014; Rowe and Kahn, 2015; Francke et al., Unknown year) have highlighted that modern societies are not fully prepared to live under these new population-related conditions. Because with so many people living longer, there are more requirements related to physical, mental, and social health that is hard to reach. In later years, it must be said that there has been an increased interest in health promotion and disease prevention through national public campaigns, mainly in developed and developing countries.

Internal Reflection (2016) byTony Luciani

One last thing to have in consideration, apart from the negative connotations, the lack of sufficient healthcare programs related to prevention and treatment is that Aging IS NOT A DISEASE. Precisely because no autopsy reports are saying that someone died of "ageing". With age, there is a tendency to develop certain diseases like dementia, and cancer. However, many diseases and conditions related to aging, such as osteoporosis, arthritis, and self-immune illnesses, are the main causes of older people's decrease in life quality. Aging starts earlier than we think, gradually, but becomes visible in many ways in later years.

Due to advances in medicine, healthcare updates, along with an important decrease in child mortality, there have never been this many humans on earth, and never this number of elders neither. The world is suffering a demographic transition; by 2.050, the number of people over 60 years old is going to go from 600M to nearly 2.000, and the percentage of elder people might increase from 10 to 21%, even more for developed countries. In the early XXI century, America (continent) had around 2 million people over 90 years, of which 90.400 were centenarian, and it will increase to 13M and 690.000 respectively (Falques-Madrid, 2014).

When defining what is successful aging, the definition given by Rowe and Kahn (1987, 1997) is the starting point. They said it is a high physical, psychological, and social functioning in old age without significant diseases. With time and multicultural backgrounds, this main idea has suffered a modification in the conceptual area and has been enriched by researchers who take progressively more factors to measure when studying the parameters of successful aging. According to the WHO (1998), there is a “healthy aging” related to a stage starting way before 60 years old that can only be acquired by having an early development of a healthy lifestyle, early prevention of diseases, and in the year 2002, a concept also addressed by the WHO was “active aging”: Active participation in social, cultural spiritual aspects.

"The global population ageing is a result of public health policies and socioeconomic development. However ageing is an individualized process, and each individual ages differently (heterogeneity) as a reflex of actions and omissions throughout life. Research in the last decade have shown that quality of life is a multidimensional approach that emphasizes not only physical functioning, energy and personal vitality, but also psychological, spiritual, emotional, social and sexual functioning, supports received and perceived, and satisfaction with life."
(Falque-Madrid, 2014)

The concept can also be better understood when considering that we have more than chronological age (number of years since a person is born). Biological age is determined by the level of organ deterioration, the psychological one that represents the functionality of an individual regarding their behavioural competence and capacity of adaptation and finally, social age that establishes the individual role that must be taken on the individual's environment. Social age can variate a lot regarding the cultural background and is more sensitive to that factor than any of the other three ages.

Based on the many definitions and updates of the successful aging concept, the most reiterative ideas are the absence of disability, chronic disease, social interaction, community role, or older people with a similar health state as "the younger".

One of the most unique features related to successful aging studies is the lecture that successful aging does not depend on socio-economic factors, however, the chances of preventive education and actions are reached by developed countries more often, even if aging is an individual process subject of heterogeneity. Also, studies (see bibliography) confirm that there is a tendency of reaching successful aging with moderated bodyweight, high social interaction, exercise habits but even this way, no study has concluded on a hundred per cent that certain practices are going to lead to successful aging.

And finally, the most crucial addition from this information is that to be functional, healthy and independent after 60+ is to cut unhealthy practices earlier. We begin to grow old very early in life even if the common stereotypes relate aging with wrinkles, grey hair, cognitive and physical limitations.


  • Alvarado García, A. M., & Salazar Maya, Á. M. (2014). Análisis del concepto de envejecimiento. Gerokomos, 25(2), 57–62.

  • Arias Orduña, A. V., & Iglesias-Parro, S. (2015). La generatividad como una forma de envejecimiento exitoso. Estudio del efecto mediacional de los vínculos sociales. European Journal of Investigation in Health, Psychology and Education, 5(1), 109.

  • Depp, C. A., & Jeste, D. V. (2006). Definitions and Predictors of Successful Aging: A Comprehensive Review of Larger Quantitative Studies. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 14(1), 6–20.

  • Falque-Madrid, Luis. (2014). La evidencia científica y el arte de envejecer. Anales Venezolanos de Nutrición, 27(1), 110-118.

  • Francke, L. (n.d.). Envejecimiento exitoso, una tarea de responsabilidad individual. A. C., 32.

  • Palmore, E. (1979). Predictors of Successful Aging. The Gerontologist, 19(5), 5.

  • Rowe, J. W., & Kahn, R. L. (1997). Successful Aging. The Gerontologist, 37(4), 433–440.

  • Rowe, J. W., & Kahn, R. L. (2015). Successful Aging 2.0: Conceptual Expansions for the 21st Century. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 70(4), 593–596.

  • Strawbridge, W. J., Cohen, R. D., Shema, S. J., & Kaplan, G. A. (1996). Successful Aging: Predictors and Associated Activities. American Journal of Epidemiology, 144(2), 135–141.


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Melisa Silva

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