Background: Successful aging is a worldwide aim, but it is less clear which indicators characterize elderly persons as successfully aged. We explored the meaning of successful aging from 2 perspectives.
Methods: Analysis of data from the first cross-sectional part of the longitudinal Leiden 85-plus Study, conducted in Leiden, the Netherlands. All inhabitants of Leiden aged 85 years were eligible. Data were obtained from 599 participants (response rate, 87%). Successful aging from a public health perspective was defined as a state of being. All participants were classified as successful or not successful based on optimal scores for physical, social, and psychocognitive functioning and on feelings of well-being, using validated quantitative instruments. Qualitative indepth interviews on the perspectives of elderly persons were held with a representative group of 27 participants.
Results: Although 45% (267/599) of the participants had optimal scores for well-being, only 13% (79/599) had optimal scores for overall functioning. In total, 10% (58/599) of the participants satisfied all the criteria and could be classified as successfully aged. The qualitative interviews showed that most elderly persons viewed success as a process of adaptation rather than a state of being. They recognized the various domains of successful aging, but valued well-being and social functioning more than physical and psychocognitive functioning.
Conclusions: If successful aging is defined as an optimal state of overall functioning and well-being, only a happy few meet the criteria. However, elderly persons view successful aging as a process of adaptation. Using this perspective, many more persons could be considered to be successfully aged.