Paper 1: Defining Successful Aging: A Tangible or Elusive Concept?

Peter Martin1, Norene Kelly1, Eva Kahana2, Boaz Kahana2, Leonard W. Poon3

1Iowa State University
2Case Western University
3University of Georgia


This is the first of five papers to review and define the notion of “successful aging” — a term that is commonly used in the gerontological literature as both a process and an outcome with significant amount of research in the last fifty years on its meanings, models, measurement, interpretations, and implications for applications.  If one ages successful, it implies that one has successfully “added years to life and life to years”  — a goal all of us would want to achieve.  Policy makers would want to instill programs that would lead its citizens to achieve some measurable benchmarks of successful aging.  Yet, after 50 years of research and discussion, there is still significant amount of ambiguity on the definition and application of the mechanisms of successful aging.

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Paper 2: Future Directions in Successful Aging — Realized or Remaining?

1Norene Kelly, 1Peter Martin, 2Leonard W. Poon, et al.

1Iowa State University
2University of Georgia

This paper is designed as a stand-alone review with the expressed goal of supplementing the initial “definition” paper (Martin et al.) by performing a literature search on historically key discussions on successful aging.  The paper systematically decomposes the key concepts to provide bases for discussion of new directions and next steps of research.

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Paper 4: Social Structure and Successful Aging

Christine L. Fry
Professor Emerita of Anthropology
Loyola University of Chicago


The first two papers in this series provided a brief history of the conceptualization of successful aging followed by a summary of key papers in a historical sequence.  As noted in the first definition paper, an important criticism of the model produced by the McArthur successful aging project is the sociological and contextual impact is lacking (Riley, et. al, 1972).  The degree of departure from usual physical, psychological, and social aging in defining successful aging needs to be interpreted from the standpoint of the society in which the individual resides and ages.  Our environment also defines our levels of development, and different environments over one’s lifetime accentuate, limit, or circumscribe our potentials.  This paper outlines the complexity of our environment in terms of social structure and networks, as well as individual differences in exchanges, interdependency, kinship, and support systems over one’s lifetime.  The paper provides another level of complexity of aging in which successful aging is defined.

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Paper 5: Interventions to Promote Successful Aging

Eva Kahana, Ph.D.
Department of Sociology
Case Western Reserve University

Boaz, Kahana, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
Cleveland State University

Funded by NIH Grant NINR 10271Assistance of the following colleagues and graduate students is appreciated: Jeffrey S. Kahana, Ph.D., Loren D. Lovegreen, Ph.D., Jane A. Brown, Ph.D., Julie Chaya, MA, Cory Cronin, MA, Relebohile Morojele, MA, and Sarah Schick, BA


Interventions to promote health and well-being among older adults are widely implemented and recommended in an effort to enhance quality of life in old age. Yet, the very idea that there is a need for interventions to achieve success is at variance with prevailing orientations about successful aging (Rowe & Kahn, 1998). To the extent that successful aging presupposes good health, financial and social resources, and adaptability, there should be little need for interventions to achieve success in late life. Such assumptions would be warranted if we define successful aging as an outcome rather than a process.  Interventions could only assist those individuals who are not aging successfully, as defined by poor physical health or cognitive limitations. In the context of outcome oriented models of healthy and successful aging, such interventions would be viewed as prosthetic measures to aid vulnerable, and by definition, unsuccessful elders.

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