What Does it Mean to Age Successfully in Today’s Society Utilizing the Viewpoints of Rowe and Kahn?


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Rowe, J.W, MD, Kahn, R.L., PhD (1997). “Successful Aging” The Gerontologist. https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/37.4.433. Vol. 37, Issue 4, Published August 1997.

Mastering the outcomes of growing old and living a longer life involve a biopsychosocial approach to self-well-being. Dr. Rowe and Dr. Kahn in a peer-reviewed journal state that, “We define successful aging as including three main components: low probability of disease and disease-related disability, high cognitive and physical functional capacity, and active engagement in life” (Gerontologist, p. 433).

For one to successfully age over the lifespan, one must focus on developing healthy habits to reduce the risk factors associated with the development of acute and chronic disabilities, diseases, and illnesses. An individual’s lifestyle is one specified area that is accounted for when evaluating the probability of developing diseases and disabilities later in life. For example, if an individual since adolescence has had a history of smoking, then the individual’s mortality rate would increase, and the individual’s life expectancy would decrease. An individual with a history of smoking could develop medical conditions such as emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Another individual that has a history of eating unhealthy foods as well as having obesity could be at high risk for having heart disease, or even, some condition as specific as coronary artery disease which can also affect their life expectancy. In these situations, it is important to avoid smoking and to get plenty of exercise while having a balanced diet to support an individual’s nutritional well-being. Unfortunately, in certain life circumstances, when parents, or other family members pass on characteristics and traits that make an individual susceptible to developing genetic disorders, this is where heredity can promote challenges to the individual’s lifespan. Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is one of the fatal genetic disorders in which mucus accumulates in the lungs and intestines which makes it hard to breathe and absorb nutrients. Generally, the life expectancy is less compared to the average person’s life expectancy, especially in the United States. Huntington’s Disease is another fatal genetic disorder affecting one’s life expectancy as one experiences involuntary movements associated with the musculoskeletal system and the nervous system which as a result affects fine and gross motor skills as well as cognitive ability. Some individuals may have to compensate for these conditions by adjusting their lifestyles such as receiving personal care services; and perhaps receiving specialized services such as speech and occupational therapies to achieve the best optimal amount of independence as possible.

Reaching an optimal level of cognitive functioning, as well as an optimal level of physical functioning, is also essential in order to achieve longevity, and to master the art of growing old with experience and wisdom. What is stated is that, “One common concern of older people relates to cognitive function, especially learning and short-term memory” (Rowe, Kahn, Gerontologist, p. 436). Learning is the key to developing an individualized spatial awareness of your surroundings as learning helps to make sense of the world surrounding the individual; learning helps to conceptualize the antecedents, behaviors, and consequences associated with experiences acquired and gained; and learning helps to develop effective relationships within the appropriate extents of the social norms. When people grow older, and they are not part of the learning process, their biopsychosocial personas are impaired. When a person is not part of the learning process, neural networks cannot be extended in the person’s brain, so neuroplasticity ceases. Ceasing the learning process can also develop anxiety and depression among the individual over the course of time, and these notions can result in mental health issues and neurological problems. Declines in cognitive functioning can result in relationships; personal care; employment; education; and other areas of society to be affected. What we need to as a society is to encourage people that are aging to continue to be able to learn. Universities need to continue to allow older adults to participate in courses on campus. Technological companies need to become more adaptive to the needs and interests of older adults to encourage them to learn more about themselves and their surroundings. Online courses and webinars may be effective in implementing learning and memory techniques for older adults, or even perhaps to establish an increase in self-esteem. Perhaps creating computer and video games to help enhance psychomotor speed and memory retention may also help to keep up with cognitive functioning of older adults as well. According to Rowe and Kahn, as it relates to the context of physical functioning, it is essential for people aging to have a, “maintenance of high physical performance, including hand, trunk, and lower extremity movements and integrated movements of balance and gait” (Gerontologist, p. 437). The key in aging is to regulate blood flow; a steady heart beat; strong bones; energy; the ability to reason and think; and a variety of other essential components to the processes of physical functioning. Optimizing several bodily systems such as, but not limited to: Cardiovascular system; Musculoskeletal system; Nervous system; Pulmonary system; Lymphatic system; Endocrine system; and Reproductive system is important when focusing on improving the physical well-being of the individual, and, increasing the individual’s life expectancy. Moderate levels of exercise activity are efficient in meeting the optimal levels of physical functioning, even as simple as a leisure walk. Some people that are older still enjoy riding their bikes; swimming in a pool; and even dancing. Physical functioning does involve keeping active.

Civic engagement, the idea of interacting within your own communities in order to promote your own emotional, mental, and social well-being, is also important in order to age successfully. Rowe and Kahn point out two elements which are, “maintenance of interpersonal relations and of productive activities” (Gerontologist, p. 437). Interpersonal relations focus on the social relationships an individual has. The aging individual is usually successful when they have the social and emotional support from family and friends. However, some older individuals are content with being alone as well. On the contrary, individuals who do not like being alone, and keep themselves isolated, usually experience mental health issues, and, also, in some older adults, suicidal ideations, in which there are some older adults that commit suicide. Productive activities for older individuals can be a variety of possibilities based on their needs and interests. Some older adults may volunteer within their communities such as participating in Meals on Wheels, volunteering at a local library, at a food pantry, at a church. Some older adults may participate in college courses in which universities are age-friendly and are willing to accommodate the needs and interests of older adults. Older adults may decide to travel across the globe. The possibilities are endless for the successful aging individual, but again, the individual has to be mindful of its health, it’s cognitive and physical functioning, and it’s civic engagement to society.





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