Successful aging through the eyes of Alaska Native elders. What it means to be an elder in Bristol Bay, AK

Gerontologist. 2011 Aug;51(4):540-9. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnr006. Epub 2011 Feb 28.


Purpose: Alaska Natives (ANs) view aging from a holistic perspective, which is not typical of the existing successful aging literature. One of the challenges of conducting research with cultural groups (e.g., ANs) is the lack of data, or research, on culture and aging and its impact on how we view successful aging. This research explores successful aging from an AN perspective or what it means to reach "Eldership" in rural Alaskan communities, which is an area of successful aging where there is very little research.

Design and methods: Data were gathered from 26 elders aged 61-93 years in 6 Bristol Bay communities in Southwest Alaska. An Explanatory Model approach was used and adapted to gain a sense of the beliefs about aging and establish an indigenous understanding of successful aging or what it means to attain "Eldership."

Results: Rather than establishing a definition of successful aging for AN Elders, this study highlights the four elements of "Eldership" or what AN Elders believe are important characteristics to becoming a respected elder. The four elements of "Eldership" are emotional well-being, community engagement, spirituality, and physical health, which are the characteristics of ANs who have reached "Eldership" and become a respected Elder in their community.

Implications: This research seeks to inform studies on indigenous aging that prioritizes the perspectives of elders to affect positively on the delivery of health care services in rural Alaska.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / ethnology*
  • Aging / physiology
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Alaska
  • Culture
  • Emotions
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American / psychology*
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • Qualitative Research
  • Rural Population
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Spirituality