Can you define a “well-aged” wine or cheese? Easy?
How about a “well-aged” life? A little more difficult!
Medical science gives us various ‘aging well’ standards.
Some standards emphasize physical ability. Others emphasize social activity. And still others emphasize cognitive strength.
What would you emphasize?
A review of the research shows that there are two main measurement categories for aging well. Objective biomedical standards and subjective socio-psychological standards.
Aging Well – Against the Average –
Taking a Biomedical Perspective
Biomedical standards compare individuals to an expected path of decline. If you do better or last longer than expected, you are aging successfully. The standard is objective. For example, if on average individuals live to the age of 83 and you are 85, by this definition you are aging well.
This may be a simplistic way to measure a complex process but it is straightforward. The answer is either yes or no.
The five most common measurements In a biomedical perspective are:
One. The presence or absence of chronic disease. If you are free of a chronic disease, you are considered to be aging well. Diabetes, for example, would be considered a problem for aging well.
Two. Mobility is another factor measured in aging well. If you are able to get around easily, you are considered to be doing better than if you need a walker or another aid.
Three. Functioning at full mental capacity, is also considered important to aging well. Struggling with cognitive issues is recognized as undermining the ability to age well.
Four. The presence or absence of disabilities is also considered a marker for aging well; and finally,
Five. If you live longer, you are aging more successfully.
These are obviously key aging factors. In fact, most seniors consider them when planning for the future, but …
Biomedical Factors Alone Are Limiting
They do miss something valuable. The reality is that adapting to a disability or dealing with a chronic condition doesn’t mean we can’t age successfully.
As Abraham Lincoln put it:
“It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.
When researchers actually asked seniors how they defined successful aging, the gaps in taking a purely biomedical approach becomes much more obvious.
Those of us over 50 tend to focus on the subejctive measures.
Those subjective measures include: financial security, supportive social relationships, a sense of purpose, the ability to cope or adapt, spirituality and overall life satisfaction.
Out of all those subjective measures I really like overall life satisfaction as a measurement tool. It is flexible enough to include the things that are most important to the individual and broad enough to have room for different perspectives.
Because most of us take a much more personal approach to defining ‘aging well
Aging Well – Life Satisfaction – socio-psychological perspectives
Socio-psychological standards focus on subjective factors. If you feel you are doing well or better than you expected, you are aging successfully.
An individuals’ perspective, using this approach, becomes an important criteria and rightfully so!
Research in this area identified six factors:
One. Financial security is considered important by many seniors. Feeling financially secure, reduces anxiety and stress. This can have a positive impact on health.
Two. Support gained from social relationships impacts aging well. Social network activity also makes a difference. Research ties active social networks to longevity. If you have active social networks, you live longer. As well, loneliness and isolation increase your risk of cognitive decline.
Three. A sense of purpose is vitally important to aging well. Research in this area has tied sense of purpose to reduction of dementia risk. In fact, individuals who have a sense of purpose reduced their dementia risk by 30%.
Four. An ability to cope or adapt is also important for aging well. When individuals are resilient, they bounce back from the inevitable disappointments of life and keep a positive outlook. A positive outlook is also a factor in longevity.
Five. Spirituality is an important component in aging well. Research shows that individuals with a prayer life, who attend a place of worship, live longer and happier lives. Daily prayer or meditation has been shown to strengthen the frontal cortex of the brain. This part of the brain is responsible for exercising good judgment, which helps to make healthy lifestyle choices that support brain health.
Six. Finally, what this all adds up to is a high level of ‘Life Satisfaction’. If you are satisfied with your life – you are aging well.
Of course, the impact of any one of these factors differs from individual to individual. The overall thrust though is that your perspective on life makes a big difference.
Aging Well – What You Think Matters
Your perspective – what you think – will impact on how you age. You can have a positive effect on the more objective measurements by focusing on the things that are within your control. Your outlook, your social networks and your sense of purpose have a positive impact on biological measurements for aging well.
While you may not be able to avoid a chronic condition, you can control your outlook on life….and you can put life in your years!
Our perspectives on successful aging are layered and complex. However, placing value on biomedical markers and on personal factors like satisfaction and adaptability, will ensure the best outcomes.
While we all have to develop our own definition of successful aging, we also have to surround ourselves with a support system as we strive to achieve it.
So give some thought to these two questions.
How would you define aging well?
What is most important to you?
Drop a comment below this post and let us know.