“Successful aging” is a term that is not well defined, but is constantly researched. The term immerged more than 20 years ago and constituted three primary domains: the avoidance of illness, physically and cognitively fit, and high engagement with life. Subsequent research placed strong emphasis on the absence or existence of disease, thereby classifying centenarians (older adults who live to 100 years of age or beyond) as “survivors,” “delayers,” and “escapers” according to the existence of diseases and the age at which the disease occurs preceding or following 80 years. Further studies addressed the importance of including elderly people’s perspectives so as to expand the primarily biomedical model to add social and psychological facets. Strong evidence showed that psychological factors of successful aging, including self-efficacy and resilience, were the sole indicators of future quality of life.
Many studies that explored the genetic and environmental influences on successful aging found that genetics plays a small role compared to that of environmental factors, but the influence could increase in older ages. Research that analyzed the biggest factors that lead to successful aging highlighted a healthy lifestyle (staying physically active and having adequate nutrition), being in an enriched environment and avoiding things that cause stress, and strategies to maintain cognitive function by methods that encourage neuronal plasticity. Moreover, the recurrent theme from all these studies indicates the necessity of obtaining higher levels of physical fitness by directly engaging in physical activity, as well as mental stimulation, and that these multidimensional methods are extremely helpful in maintaining healthy physical and cognitive function.
Frailty is another phenomenon that has physical, mental, and social components that quantifies the rate of the aging process and has been under constant research. The term has been considered an age-related syndrome that signifies physiological deterioration of various bodily systems due to aging that raises an older adult’s vulnerability to any outside stressors. Frailty is also a predictor of numerous negative outcomes, such as dependency, need of hospital care, and mortality.
An article published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association discussed a recent study that analyzed the association between frailty and successful aging, and how walking speed can be used as a strong indicator of successful aging. A total of 1929 participants living in China participated in the study. They were men and women of young to older ages (25-89 years of age). The study found that those who could walk at a fast gait speed “had better self-rated health, lower prevalence of stroke, hypertension, cataracts, osteoporosis, and impaired cognitive function.” These participants had an increased likelihood of being current alcohol drinkers, more physically active, ate more vegetables, had enhanced physical aspect of health-related quality of life, and had more education. They also were more physically fit, with lower body mass index and percentage of whole body fat, and greater muscle mass index.
The study concluded that frailty and successful aging could be highly associated with each other, and being able to walk at a fast speed may be used as a strong indicator of successful aging.
Older adults in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are highly prone to frailty and decreased overall quality of life. Staff in these facilities must encourage their residents to engage in appropriate forms of physical activity, social interaction, and provide them with adequate nutrient-dense meals. If you or a loved one has been neglected or abused in a long-term health care facility, such as a nursing home or assisted living facility in Clovis or Coalinga, California, contact us today for a free consultation.