Microsoft Office image (2013)

Microsoft Office image (2013)

Once upon a time, researchers focused on survival as the gold standard outcome for life.  While mortality continues to be a critical measure, concepts related to quality of life are integral to many health care professions.

As a physical therapist, I work with patients to develop functional goals that are linked to participation in life.  During a literature search (most likely for something unrelated), I became curious about the emergence of different life measurement terms in research.  I searched for the oldest article titles in Pub Med ( that included each term and found:

  • Mortality (1841)
  • Quality of life (1959)
  • Successful aging (1967)
  • Active life expectancy (1983)

From a measurement perspective, death is a concrete event; successful aging is abstract.  Abstract concepts are inherently challenging to define and quantify.  Terminology and operational definitions for successful aging are diverse.  Measures of success may focus on physical ability/disability, cognitive function, emotional or social health, disease, or combinations of different health domains (Lowry, 2012).

What is wrong with different definitions?  Basic epidemiologic measures such as prevalence prove problematic.  The range for “mean proportion of successful agers” across 28 studies was “0.4% to 95%” (Lowry, 2012).

So is successful aging a public health issue?  Do older adults view successful aging differently than health care providers?  Reichstadt et al. (2010) conducted qualitative interviews on perceptions of “successful aging” with 22 community-dwelling older adults.  Themes included balance between “self-acceptance/self-contentment” and “engagement with life/self-growth in later life.”

Discussion Questions

  • Share your own definition of successful aging.
  • What other terms are used for quality of aging in your community or health care setting? How is the outcome measure defined?


  1. Lowry KA, Vallejo AN, Studenski SA. Successful aging as a continuum of functional independence: lessons from physical disability models of aging. Aging Dis 2012;3:5-15.
  2. Reichstadt J, Sengupta G, Depp CA, Palinkas LA, Jeste DV. Older adults’ perspectives on successful aging: qualitative interviews. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry 2010;18:567-575.

Our Guest Blogger this week is Rebecca Galloway, PT, GCS, CEEAA, Assistant Professor,  SHP Department of Physical Therapy.

Join us for a real-time discussion about questions raised by this essay on Wednesday from 12:00 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. See Discussion and SL tabs above for details. Link to the virtual meeting room: