Objectives: To determine whether older adults have thought about aging and aging successfully and to compare their perceptions of successful aging with attributes of successful aging identified in the published literature.
Design: A cross-sectional, mailed survey.
Setting: King County, Washington.
Participants: Nondemented participants from two cohorts. The first cohort, referred to as Kame, which means turtle, a symbol of longevity for Japanese, enrolled 1,985 Japanese Americans aged 65 and older and was established in 1992-94. The second cohort, Adult Changes in Thought, enrolled 2,581 white men and women aged 65 and older from a health maintenance organization and was established in 1994-96.
Measurements: Respondents were asked whether they had ever thought about aging and aging successfully and whether these thoughts had changed over the previous 20 years and about how important specific attributes, originating from the published literature, were in characterizing successful aging.
Results: Overall, 90% had previously thought about aging and aging successfully, and approximately 60% said their thoughts had changed over the previous 20 years. The Japanese-American group rated 13 attributes as important to successful aging; the white group rated the same 13 as important and added one additional attribute, learning new things.
Conclusion: Older adults' definition of successful aging is multidimensional, encompassing physical, functional, psychological, and social health. In contrast, none of the published work describing attributes of successful aging includes all four dimensions. Future work would benefit from an expanded definition to adequately reflect the perceptions of older adults.