Successful Aging with Illness

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Carver, Lisa
Social Determinants of Health , Resilience , Engagement , Gender
In twenty years almost one in four Canadians will be over the age of 65. How successfully these people age will influence their quality of life and contribute to their physical health. Illness and disease are frequent components of aging; however, ‘successful aging’ research normally excludes people with illness. Older people living with illness, even life threatening illness, often self-report a good quality of life and continue to experience psychological well-being and a significant engagement in social life. This dissertation uses a three manuscript approach to examine successful aging among people with illness. The first manuscript employed a scoping review to examine the models used in recent successful aging research, compiling the most frequently used constructs which included: engagement, optimism and/or positive attitude, resilience, spirituality and/or religiosity, self-efficacy and/or self-esteem, and gerotranscendence. The second manuscript utilized data gathered via interviews (online or in person) with people over the age of 65 years living with illness. The majority of these participants reported success in aging; only resilience was predictive in the binomial regression analysis. The third manuscript examined the role of social determinants of health on successful aging. The analysis revealed that disengagement from community-activities showed a significant association with higher self-reported successful aging. The best fitting model for predicting rate of successful aging with illness was a linear combination of participants’ ageism score and community activity score, while controlling for gender and age. When considered together, the results from these three manuscripts suggest that successful aging can be experienced by older adults aging with illness. And that, among these older adults, resilience, community interaction and ageism may all play a part in determining the extent to which aging is experienced as successful. Recommendations include the suggestion that we embrace the idea that people with illness can self-define as successful agers. Further, since some of the associated constructs (e.g. resilience) can be fostered, successful aging could be bolstered by education or programs to build skills along with the usual treatment modalities for the illnesses that co-exist.
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