Since the 1960’s, there has been an increased attention towards positive discourses of aging. This dialogue strives to promote active, healthy, positive and productive aging; however, are these realistic goals? While successful aging may be attainable for some individuals, it may not be for others who have been struck with diseases that limit their abilities to support these aging ideals. However, as social workers, we must not completely eliminate successful aging, but take a critical approach in adapting this term to extend beyond the goal of postponing old age.
In addition, by solely focusing on delaying old age, professionals are in fact subordinating older adults that are not aging successfully based on our personal assumptions, expectations and definitions of what growing older should entail. In a way, we are pigeonholing individuals and not allowing them to be individuals with unique ways of living their lives.
Much emphasis is also placed on individual responsibility of aging and postponing old age as well. People are constantly surrounded by advertisements and messages for beauty products, supplements and medical treatments that promote successful aging. However, holding an individual accountable for how they age can be problematic, as this blames the aging individual. Although this may be true, I do not want to “sugar-coat” that an individual has no responsibility in how they age, as aging is dependent on how one treats their body.
However, my goal in this statement is to highlight that social workers must engage in a paradigm shift from an emphasis on individual responsibility of aging to a balanced prototype of aging. Aging is dependent on personal health practices as well as other determinants of health such as income and social status, gender, culture and early childhood development. All of these factors thus may lead to “successful” or “unsuccessful” aging.
With a tendency to dissociate aging and disease, emphasize delaying old age and blame victims of “unsuccessful” aging, it is evident that the term, successful aging has limitations. However, a temporary solution may be to incorporate this term in practice through a person-centered approach to successful aging. Personal, social, economic and environmental factors all determine the health status of individuals and therefore, individuals have different opinions regarding what they view as being important to their personal health. Therefore, it may be beneficial to become increasingly mindful of different perspectives of successful aging when working with individuals. The term successful aging is quite ambiguous; therefore, it is only beneficial when we take into account the different personal definitions of the term.
Megan Ferguson is the Ageing and Gerontology Staff Writer. She is a BSW student at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB. Megan is currently pursuing a specialization in aging and is interested in working in the field of geriatrics, addiction or mental health.