Can you define a “well-aged” wine or cheese?
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.
If you had to set a standard, what would you emphasize?
There are two main measurement categories for aging well. One group of measurements uses objective biomedical standards. The second uses subjective socio-psychological standards.
The objective standards measure you against the average of what is expected at your age. The subjective standards take a more personal approach.
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 the average, you are aging successfully. The standard is objective. For example, if the average lifespan in your country is 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 simple and straightforward. The answer is either yes or no.
The five most common biomedical measurements used in measuring successful aging are:
1. The presence or absence of chronic disease. If you are free of a chronic disease, you are considered to be aging well. Diabetes is a chronic disease that can stop you from aging well.
2. Mobility is another factor measured in aging well. If you can easily get around, you are doing better than if you need a walker or a cane.
3. Functioning at full mental capacity, is also considered important to aging well. Struggling with cognitive issues undermines your ability to age well.
4. Another marker for aging well is the presence or absence of disabilities; and finally,
5. If you live longer, you are aging more successfully.
These are obviously key aging factors. In fact, most of us consider them when planning for the future. But solely focusing on biomedical factors misses an important part of the picture.
Biomedical Factors Alone Are Limiting
Relying on biomedical factors alone do miss a key factor. The reality is that adapting to a disability does not doom us. Nor does a chronic condition mean that we cannot age successfully.
As Abraham Lincoln put it:
“It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.
There are important metrics that the biomedical approach misses. When researchers actually asked seniors how they defined successful aging, the gaps become obvious.
Those of us over 50 tend to focus on the subjective measures. That means that the measuring standard is personal. How satisfied I am about something will be different from how satisfied you are.
Subjective measures cover areas such as financial security and supportive social relationships. A sense of purpose or spirituality can also serve as a measure. Research shows we also value resilience 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 each of us. It is also broad enough to have room for different perspectives.
So, let’s dig into subjective measurements and you can choose what works best for you.
Socio-psychological standards focus on subjective factors. If you feel you are doing well or better than you expected, you are aging successfully.
Individual perspectives, using this approach, become important criteria and rightfully so!
Research in this area identified six factors:
1. Financial security is considered important by many seniors. Feeling financially secure, reduces anxiety and stress. And we know stress reduction positively impacts brain health.
2. Support gained from social relationships impacts aging well. Social network activity also makes a difference. Research ties active social networks to living longer. As well, we know loneliness and isolation increase your risk of cognitive decline.
3. 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%.
4. 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 when thing sgo awry. A positive outlook is also a factor in living longer.
5. 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 handles critical thinking. It is where we exercise good judgment. The research concludes that individuals with good judgment make healthy lifestyle choices.
6. Finally, what this all adds up to is a high level of ‘Life Satisfaction’. Satisfaction with your life equals aging well.
Of course, the impact of any one of these factors differs from individual to individual. The takeaway 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. Focus on what you can control, and you can have a positive effect on the more objective measurements. You can control your outlook. You can enhance your social networks and strengthen your sense of purpose. All these can 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.