Successful Aging: History and State of the Art

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 12:45
Location: Hörsaal 33 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Yaroslava EVSEEVA, Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia
Robert Havighurst advanced his concept of successful aging, understood as life satisfaction continuing into later maturity, in the early 1960s. The two theories he drew inspiration from were those of activity (maintaining the level of social activity typical of middle age) and disengagement (individuals gradually leaving society). Both theories were later criticized for their allegedly one-sided nature; nevertheless, they formed the basis of contemporary views on "aging well". Various researchers saw this as healthy / active / positive / productive aging. Today, successful aging is regarded by gerontologists and sociologists as a broad framework not limited to one particular theory and aiming to encompass the whole older population. Both relatively healthy individuals and those with a disability, working and retired, (grand)parents and childless can be said to be aging successfully if their view of themselves and their lives is positive rather than negative. Meredith Flood defines successful aging as an ability to adapt to emerging changes while preserving one's own identity and a sense of life. A promising trend consists in connecting successful aging with the concept of gerotranscendence which was put forward by Lars Tornstam in the late 1990s and implies transcending, in old age, the limits of everyday material existence, thus reaching a new personality level (characterized by selectivity in connections and activities, increasing independence of other people's opinions and focusing on the spiritual rather than the material). According to Pamela Reed, this can be achieved through altruistic behaviour, lifelong learning, creativity, keeping a diary and various forms of sharing wisdom with others. William Randall suggests that a vital component of the process is irony; it helps a person accept the ambiguity of life, be less serious about oneself and eventually one's own end. Successful aging thus proves a fruitful framework for the 21st century.