What is “Successful Aging?”

aging in place

Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practiced every day.

~ Jim Rohn


Aging in Place

I recently read a comment in response to the concept of “Successful Aging.” The individual questioned the term/idea of successful aging. They asked “What does successful aging even mean? A fair question and one that was addressed decades ago.

In 1999, I read one of the most influential books on aging that shaped much of my thinking on the topic. The book was titled, SCCCESSFUL AGING, it was written by John Wallis Rowe M.D., and Robert L. Kahn. PhD.  I referenced the work in many talks, papers, and conversations in the early days of my gerontological journey.

The book questioned historic gerontology and the Peak-Decline medical model of aging–really for the first time in mass media. It was bold in content and dared to explore aspects of aging that went well (free of pathology). The authors employed scientific rigor and used the theoretical scaffolding The MacArthur Foundation studies (longitudinal research) to show empirically that human development was possible in the later stages of life.

It was beyond happy talk about getting old (Happy Gerontology) and was the foundational work for much the current trend of viewing aging from a critical perspective of questioning cultural assumptions about aging (ageism).

So called Successful Aging is multidimensional and according to Rowe and Kahn, consists of the following elements:

  • Avoiding disease and disability
  • Having high cognitive, mental and physical function
  • Being actively engage in life
  • Being psychologically well adapted in later life

These defining components have themselves age well, and in my opinion remain a solid definition of aging successfully.



Successful Aging Paperback – March 9, 1999, by John Wallis Rowe M.D., Robert L. Kahn

MacArthur Foundation Study

Definitions of successful ageing: A brief review of a multidimensional concept



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