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Dimensions of Successful Aging

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  • 0:02 What Is Successful Aging?
  • 0:52 Challenges in Older Age
  • 1:39 Successes in Older Age
  • 3:28 Compression of Morbidity
  • 5:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

What does successful aging look like? This lesson explores factors that challenge us in older age, and what factors help us cope with these obstacles to living well.

What Is Successful Aging?

How do you know when you are successful at something? If you take a test, you know if you are successful based on the grade you receive. If you run a race, you know how well you did based on what place you came in or whether your time was better than your last race.

So how do people know when they are aging successfully? No single measure gives us a full picture of this type of success. Plus we all have our own points of view about what success in older age would look like for our own lives. Yet researchers do aim to better understand specific areas of life that affect how well we age overall.

This lesson identifies the dimensions of life that are important to successful aging and the factors that affect how much people thrive during their older years of life.

Challenges in Older Age

Among the biggest challenges to success a person may face as they age, disease and disability are big issues. Physical health and cognitive functioning are important factors that influence whether we experience aging positively.

Losing loved ones and friends is another difficulty. While this cannot be prevented, it is hard to lose this type of social support at a time when we may value these connections even more than earlier in life.

Financial insecurity is another element that makes it hard to experience satisfaction near the end of life, since the experience is stressful and makes it more likely that we feel out of control. This is a particular challenge for those who have limited financial resources and socioeconomic status throughout life.

Successes in Older Age

So what helps us with overcoming these challenges and living well? Researchers have found that a sense of purpose, continuing activity and engagement with others, along with ongoing learning, all help older individuals to deal with the difficulties they face as they age. Even humor can help with coping.

Self-efficacy is another factor in successful aging. Self-efficacy is confidence in our ability to overcome challenges and achieve goals. This aspect of our personality also influences how satisfied we feel with our life. Each of us will measure the success of our life through our own viewpoints. With a high sense of self-efficacy, we may be able to deal better with what comes our way and find satisfaction in overcoming hard times. We will also feel compassion for others who are struggling.

Self-efficacy comes into play throughout life. For instance, if you had to run a race, you might find that even though you prepared well for it, you still end up with some unexpected moments where you find it hard to keep going. If you are a person with high self-efficacy, you would be likely to do your best to overcome these challenges, perhaps by remembering previous troubles in other races where you persisted despite the obstacles.

If you obtained an injury during the race, success might mean not finishing the race at all, and instead getting assistance as soon as possible to address it, so that you don't injure yourself worse for next year's race. The idea that you faced challenges and did your best to overcome them in your best interest is what matters most.

Compression of Morbidity

Even though most of us see failing health and chronic medical problems as an inevitable part of aging, believing our health will only grow worse as we get older, one theory suggests a more optimistic view of this process. Known as the compression of morbidity theory, this viewpoint argues that the burden of chronic illness later in life can be reduced if we delay the onset of the first signs of disease.

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