The Secret to Growing Old Gracefully

Successful aging involves resilience and lower levels of depression

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Just about everyone wants the secret to life. But they might settle for the secret to aging gracefully. One important key to successfully aging appear to be… growing older.

A recent study of seniors found that those who were the oldest also reported the highest self-rating of successful aging. Other keys to successful aging were higher levels of resilience and lower levels of depression.

Unsurprisingly, those with better physical health also reported higher levels of successful aging. But mental health appeared to play an important role in successful aging also.

"Age gracefully - sing, dance, love."

The study, led by Dilip V. Jeste, MD, the director of the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging at the University of California in San Diego, aimed to understand how cognitive, physical and psychological health figure into perceptions of successful aging.

The researchers randomly selected 1,006 older adults, aged 50 to 99, to conduct 25-minute interviews by phone. The participants were then mailed more in-depth surveys to complete that asked about their physical, cognitive and psychological health.

Only respondents with a landline telephone and fluent English were included in the survey. Those with a diagnosis of dementia, a terminal illness or residence in a nursing home were also excluded from the survey.

The average age of the respondents, who were predominantly white, was 77 years old, and they reported an average rating of "successful aging," on a scale of 1 to 10, at 8.2.

The older the respondents were, the higher their self-rating was for successful aging, even though their ratings of their physical and cognitive health were lower than younger respondents. For example, the average rating of "successful aging" among respondents aged 50 to 59 was 7.7, which climbed to 8.2 among those aged 70 to 89 and 8.6 among those aged 90 to 99.

The definition was "successful aging" was determined by each respondent. The actual question asked was that they rate "the extent to which they thought they had aged successfully."

Overall, the respondents who reported higher scores of resilience, lower rates of depression and better physical health were those who reported the highest self-rated scores of successfully aging. The study was limited by the fact that the survey results were self-reported and by the fact that individuals in nursing homes were excluded.

It may be that the older adults reported more successful aging because, well, they had made it that far while their peers were in nursing homes or had died.

Yet these oldest adults also reported worse physical and cognitive functioning despite reporting the highest rates of successful aging, and the survey sample did include unhealthy seniors.

Overall, the researchers concluded that treating depression and looking after seniors' mental health are key to successful aging.

The study was published December 7 in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institutes of Health National Center for Research Support, the John A. Hartford Foundation and the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 18, 2012
Last Updated:
December 21, 2012