168 Successful Aging

Martha Lally and Suzanne Valentine-French

Although definitions of successful aging are value-laden, Rowe and Kahn (1997) defined three criteria of successful aging that are useful for research and behavioural interventions. They include:

  • relative avoidance of disease, disability, and risk factors like high blood pressure, smoking, or obesity;
  • maintenance of high physical and cognitive functioning; and
  • active engagement in social and productive activities.

For example, research has demonstrated that age-related declines in cognitive functioning across the adult life span may be slowed through physical exercise and lifestyle interventions (Kramer and Erickson, 2007).

Another way that older adults can respond to the challenges of aging is through compensation. Specifically, selective optimization with compensation is used when the elder makes adjustments, as needed, in order to continue living as independently and actively as possible (Baltes and Dickson, 2001). When older adults lose functioning, referred to as loss-based selection, they may first use new resources/technologies or continually practice tasks to maintain their skills. However, when tasks become too difficult, they may compensate by choosing other ways to achieve their goals. For example, a person who can no longer drive needs to find alternative transportation, or a person who is compensating for having less energy learns how to reorganize the daily routine to avoid overexertion.

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