Operational definitions of successful aging: a systematic review

Int Psychogeriatr. 2014 Mar;26(3):373-81. doi: 10.1017/S1041610213002287. Epub 2013 Dec 5.


Background: Half a century after the inception of the term "successful aging (SA)," a consensus definition has not emerged. The current study aims to provide a comprehensive snapshot of operational definitions of SA.

Methods: A systematic review across MedLine, PsycInfo, CINAHL, EMBASE, and ISI Web of Knowledge of quantitative operational definitions of SA was conducted.

Results: Of the 105 operational definitions, across 84 included studies using unique models, 92.4% (97) included physiological constructs (e.g. physical functioning), 49.5% (52) engagement constructs (e.g. involvement in voluntary work), 48.6% (51) well-being constructs (e.g. life satisfaction), 25.7% (27) personal resources (e.g. resilience), and 5.7% (6) extrinsic factors (e.g. finances). Thirty-four definitions consisted of a single construct, 28 of two constructs, 27 of three constructs, 13 of four constructs, and two of five constructs. The operational definitions utilized in the included studies identify between <1% and >90% of study participants as successfully aging.

Conclusions: The heterogeneity of these results strongly suggests the multidimensionality of SA and the difficulty in categorizing usual versus successful aging. Although the majority of operationalizations reveal a biomedical focus, studies increasingly use psychosocial and lay components. Lack of consistency in the definition of SA is a fundamental weakness of SA research.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living / classification
  • Activities of Daily Living / psychology
  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Resilience, Psychological
  • Social Adjustment
  • Socioeconomic Factors