Successful Aging According to Seniors

Two groups of Israeli seniors weigh in on successful aging

Keep Moving, Eat Better, Cultivate Social Connections, Develop a Positive Mental Attitude, Live with Purpose

Most studies of healthy aging focus on risk factors or steps that elders can take to increase their Quality of Lifespan. Two recent studies took a different approach, both seeking to understand healthy aging from the elders’ perspectives. The first appeared as a book, Narratives of Positive Aging – Seaside Stories by Amia Lieblich. The author spent 18 months in near daily contact with an informal group of Israeli seniors at a seaside café in Tel-Aviv. Positive aging appeared to arise from adopting attitudes of reconciliation and moderation that established community and friendship. These seniors kept their life story open and dynamic, while establishing a daily routine of play, laughter, and exercise in a beautiful, (relatively) natural setting. The participants lived in the now, with few excursions into the past, while accepting their age and the changes in their bodies and abilities.

A recent study featured in-depth interviews of 31 older Israelis. Interestingly, these elders identified the same factors that often appear in top-down aging studies with thousands of participants. Researchers identified three themes from the participants’ responses: 1) central concerns of their life experiences, 2) strategies to address these concerns and to live a meaningful life, and 3) resources and character strengths that facilitate coping and enable thriving. Fear of losing control and fear of squandering spare time and missing out emerged as central concerns. More specifically, participants mentioned declining personal independence, losing control over one’s activity and time, and attempts to maintain control by eating well and keeping physically and mentally active. With regard to fear of squandering their spare time and missing out, participants placed high value of keeping busy, being involved meaningful activities in group contexts, contributing to society, and experiencing a sense of purpose.

Participants identified two strategies for coping with the challenges of old age: 1) establishing an active daily routine, and 2) contributing to others and the world. A daily routine can provide a sense of order and purpose. Contributing included helping friends and family members and volunteering in their larger communities. Participants mentioned three resources and personal strengths: 1) connection and belonging, 2) openness and savoring experiences, and 3) an optimistic attitude and moderation. Overall, the elders’ advocated a balance between self-acceptance and self-contentment on the one hand and engagement with life and personal growth on the other.  While the medical research community tends to identify healthy aging as largely a matter of eating better, exercising more, and maintaining social relationships, these Israeli elders advocated a far more holistic view.

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