Factors that affect successful aging through different decades of older adulthood: A qualitative approach


Context: Qualitatively derived, lay-based definitions have provided socially relevant conceptualizations of successful aging, however, limited knowledge exists as to how such conceptualizations change throughout older adulthood. Purpose: To qualitatively examine the factors that contribute to successful aging during different decades of older adulthood. Methods: Fundamental qualitative description was adopted as the methodological framework. Through purposeful sampling, 42 community dwelling older adults (mean age = 79.6 years, age range = 65-97 years; 19 males) were recruited. Focus groups (6) segmented by decade of life were conducted with participants 65-74 (n = 17) and 75-84  (n = 17) years of age. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with four participants from each decade, as well as participants 85 years of age and older (n = 8). Data analyses were conducted independently for each decade of life and included inductive analysis of textual data through continuous comparisons of meaning units. Results: Three primary themes related to successful aging were identified across all decades of older adulthood: (1) staying healthy (subthemes: genetics and life style choices), (2) maintaining an active engagement in life (subthemes: social engagement and cognitive engagement), and (3) keeping a positive attitude. Participants in specific decades of older adulthood identified three additional subthemes related to maintaining an active engagement in life: finances (65-74 and 85+ years), social support (75+ years), and successful marriage (75+ years). Similarly, only adults 65-84 years of age identified a subtheme for keeping a positive attitude: acceptance and adaptation to lifeDiscussion: Primary themes related to successful aging were agreed upon by participants in all decades of older adulthood, while age-based differences existed among subthemes. Thus, what it means to age successfully may be age-dependent. 

Acknowledgments: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council