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Operational definitions of successful aging: a systematic review

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2013

Theodore D. Cosco*
Affiliation:
Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Cambridge Institute of Public Health, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
A. Matthew Prina
Affiliation:
Centre for Global Mental Health, Department of Health Services and Population Research, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, London, UK
Jaime Perales
Affiliation:
Parc Sanitari, Sant Joan de Deu, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
Blossom C. M. Stephan
Affiliation:
Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
Carol Brayne
Affiliation:
Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Cambridge Institute of Public Health, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
*
Correspondence should be addressed to: Theodore D Cosco, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge, Forvie Site, Robinson Way, Cambridge, CB2 0SR, UK. Phone: 07414983921. Email: tdc33@cam.ac.uk.

Abstract

Background:

Half a century after the inception of the term “successful aging (SA),” a consensus definition has not emerged. The current study aims to provide a comprehensive snapshot of operational definitions of SA.

Methods:

A systematic review across MedLine, PsycInfo, CINAHL, EMBASE, and ISI Web of Knowledge of quantitative operational definitions of SA was conducted.

Results:

Of the 105 operational definitions, across 84 included studies using unique models, 92.4% (97) included physiological constructs (e.g. physical functioning), 49.5% (52) engagement constructs (e.g. involvement in voluntary work), 48.6% (51) well-being constructs (e.g. life satisfaction), 25.7% (27) personal resources (e.g. resilience), and 5.7% (6) extrinsic factors (e.g. finances). Thirty-four definitions consisted of a single construct, 28 of two constructs, 27 of three constructs, 13 of four constructs, and two of five constructs. The operational definitions utilized in the included studies identify between <1% and >90% of study participants as successfully aging.

Conclusions:

The heterogeneity of these results strongly suggests the multidimensionality of SA and the difficulty in categorizing usual versus successful aging. Although the majority of operationalizations reveal a biomedical focus, studies increasingly use psychosocial and lay components. Lack of consistency in the definition of SA is a fundamental weakness of SA research.

Type
Review Article
Copyright
Copyright © International Psychogeriatric Association 2013 

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