Successful aging and life satisfaction
Successful aging and life satisfaction can be a subjective concept. For the purposes of this article, I would like to propose the definition of successful aging and life satisfaction as:
- The continued ability to learn and develop as a person.
- The ability to apply new knowledge and learned strategies that enable one to remain functioning and independent.
- The ability to contribute to society in a meaningful way.
- The ability to find value and personal meaning in and purpose for living.
Research indicates that the following are all significant factors in maintaining these abilities for successful aging and life satisfaction:
- Cognitive health and functioning/ Adaptive Competence/ Resiliency
- Physical health and functioning
- Psychological health and functioning
- Social health and Social Support
- Autonomy and Perceived Control
- Positive Spirituality
We will examine these functions, but first, we cannot overstate that these abilities are all interrelated and can have a significant effect on one another. We also need to understand that not all these factors must be present to have a fulfilling and productive life as we age.
Consider folks who are wheelchair bound, have lost sight, hearing or limbs who have a purposeful and worthwhile life despite their adversities. A characteristic called resiliency, which works hand in hand with acceptance, is critical for our success and life satisfaction.
Stephen Hawkins, a brilliant scientist who continued to deliver his findings until he died despite not being able to move or speak on his own provides a powerful example of resiliency and acceptance. How about Helen Keller who was both deaf and blind and became a writer, educator, and co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The importance of how we view life with either a positive or negative perception cannot be overstated. We can have a growth mindset or a limited mindset: “glass half empty or half full.” We cannot underestimate these characteristics when looking at successful aging and life satisfaction. Let us begin our examination of the factors research indicates are important for our successful aging.
Cognitive health and Adaptive Competence defined as both knowledge and skills acquired over a lifetime, and a current ability to reason and deal with complex information around us and cope with and adapt to the demands of one’s environment and increasing developmental changes and losses. Both cognitive health and the ability to adapt require the skill to problem solve and to know what and how to employ specific strategies. Level of education is the most significant factor in determining a higher level of cognitive functioning regardless of age. While lifestyle, habits, and diet contribute to a decline in cognitive functioning.
What maintains our cognitive functioning?
- Learning a language or how to quilt (skills that stimulate working memory and experiential memory, and reasoning)
- Challenge yourself on a regular basis!
- Taking a course and keeping your mind active regularly (i.e., reading, crossword puzzles)
- Social engagement and close relationships
- Moderate exercise
- Healthy Diet
- Addressing heart risk factors
Physical health and functioning can be defined as biological functions, i.e., hearing, vision, blood pressure, pulmonary function or as performance ability, i.e., balance, gait, and manual abilities, which may be a more appropriate way to measure physical functioning for older adults.
What maintains physical health?
- Exercise, even moderate exercise
- A non-sedentary lifestyle
- Healthy diet
- Social and emotional support, specifically closeness to siblings.
Psychosocial health is defined as social support, productive involvement, mental health, and perceived control over one’s life. The variables that affect psychosocial health negatively include stress, education, opportunity, and discrimination. Discrimination, especially ageism, alone has the potential to affect all factors of successful aging. Because our society is aging and death denying, we reject the elder person and their wisdom, skill, knowledge, experience, and importance; and by doing so neglect a valuable resource.
Of interest are the findings that anti-depressants, sleeping pills and tranquilizers, alcoholism and depressive disorders have a strong negative effect on psychosocial health. Whereas frequent social contact, good mental health and the absence of alcoholism significantly improves outcomes for us as we age.
What maintains our pyschosocial health?
- Social engagement
- Having a network of support
Social health and Support defined as believing one is cared for and loved and is a key factor for increased quality and quantity of life, reduces exposure to stress, and promotes health. Having social relationships, networks and support are powerful predictors of physical and mental health.
Autonomy/perceived Control defined as the extent to which we can make decisions regarding our choices and effect change in our environment. When we believe we can act in and control a situation, the negative effects of stress are ameliorated and lead to greater life satisfaction and overall health.
Positive spirituality involves developing an internalized personal relationship with the sacred or transcendent that is not bound by race, ethnicity, economics, or class and promotes the wellness and welfare of self and others. Positive spirituality uses aspects of both religion and spirituality and can be a significant resource and source of well-being.
It is important to note that any intervention using positive spirituality should be patient- and not caregiver-centered. The health care provider must honor the patient’s autonomy, follow the patients’ lead, and needs, and use permission, respect, wisdom, and sensitivity.
The following is a visual conception of the factors that contribute to successful aging, well-being, and life satisfaction, showing the interconnectedness of all of them.
The takeaway? Engage in moderate exercise, stay socially engaged and learn something new!
Robin is a Care Manager for Elder Options and has a passion to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves and provide them with the care and dignity each of us deserve.
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