Successful Aging: A Concept Analysis

Article excerpt

Abstract: As the number of elderly persons in our country increases, more attention is being given to geriatric health care needs. Successful aging is becoming an increasingly popular topic in professional and lay literature. The concept of successful aging has been somewhat nebulous due in part to the array of professionals who have approached it across multiple disciplines. Because of nursings concern with holistic care of the person, successful aging is very relevant to nursing knowledge. Concept analysis helps distinquish the defining attributes of a successful aging and is a useful process to utilize in order to understand successful aging from a multidimensional perspective that is congruent with holistic nursing practice. The purpose of this concept analysis is to establish more holistic understanding of successful aging from a nursing perspective.

Key Words: Aging, Successful Aging, Concept Analysis

THE CONCEPT

As the number of elderly persons in our country increases, more attention is being given to geriatric health care needs. Successful aging is becoming an increasingly popular topic in professional and lay literature. The magnitude of geriatric health care issues supports the need to understand successful aging, and to be able to distinguish it from maladaptive aging. However, the concept of successful aging has been somewhat nebulous, due in part to the array of professionals who have approached it across multiple disciplines. The emergent problem is fragmented perspectives on optimal physical health and mobility, psychological wellness, or minimal pathologic alterations, serving to define successful aging.

Researchers in psychology, medicine, gerontology, and philosophy have explored the phenomenon of successful aging according to their conceptualization. However, these conceptualizations have fallen short because they do not account for the multidimensionality of the aging person. It is not only one's physical body and abilities that change with the progression of time, but also the mind and spirit. Because of nursing's concern with holistic care of the person, successful aging is very relevant to nursing knowledge. Concept analysis helps distinguish the defining attributes of a successful aging and is a useful process to utilize in order to understand successful aging from a multidimensional perspective that is congruent with holistic nursing practice.

Walker and Avant (1995) suggest eight helpful steps to take when doing a concept analysis. They are as follows: select a concept; determine the aims or purpose of the analysis; identify all uses of the concept; determine defining attributes; construct a model case; construct borderline, related, contrary, invented, and illegitimate cases; identify antecedents and consequences; and, define empirical referents. The purpose of this concept analysis is to establish more holistic understanding of successful aging from a nursing perspective.

USES OF THE CONCEPT

To age means to become old, to show the characteristics of increasing age (Infoplease, 2001). A more biologic definition of aging is "the cumulative changes in an organism, organ, tissue, or cell leading to a decrease in functional capacity, associated with degenerative changes (Merriam-Webster, 2001)." Aging refers not only to living organisms. Another meaning is "to acquire a desirable quality (as mellowness or ripeness) by standing undisturbed for some time (letting cheese age) (Infoplease, 2001)." These definitions indicate that the process of aging could be viewed as something desirable or as a series of damaging events that ultimately impair an organism. To be successful means to have a degree or measure of succeeding, a desired or favorable outcome, the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence (Merriam-Webstet, 2001). Successfulness is therefore associated with achievement of a preferred or favorable outcome, goal, or consequence.

Given the most generic of definitions according to popular dictionary references, the definitions of successful aging as " a favotable outcome as perceived by the individual, and his ability to cope or adapt to the cumulative changes associated with the passage of time, while experiencing a sense of meaning or purpose in life" is quite fitting. …