SOURCE: Address correspondence to Rafael D. Romo, RN, PHN, MSN, UCSF School of Nursing, Office of Student Affairs N319X, 2 Koret Way, San Francisco, CA 94143-0602. E-mail: Rafael.Romo@ucsf.edu.
PURPOSE: Researchers often use the term “successful aging” to mean freedom from disability, yet the perspectives of elders living with late-life disability have not been well described. The purpose of this study was to explore the meaning of successful aging among a diverse sample of community-dwelling elders with late-life disability.
DESIGN AND METHODS: Using qualitative grounded theory methodology, we interviewed 56 African American, White, Cantonese-speaking Chinese, and Spanish-speaking Latino disabled elders who participate in On Lok Lifeways, a Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly. Through semi-structured interviews with open-ended questions, we explored the elders’ perceptions of what successful aging and being old meant to them.
RESULTS: Despite experiencing late-life disability, most participants felt they had aged successfully. An overarching theme was that aging results in Living in a New Reality, with two subthemes: Acknowledging the New Reality and Rejecting the New Reality. Participants achieved successful aging by using adaptation and coping strategies to align their perception of successful aging with their experiences. Themes were common across race/ethnic groups but certain strategies were more prominent among different groups.
IMPLICATIONS: Across race and ethnic groups, most of these participants with late-life disability felt they had aged successfully. Thus, successful aging involves subjective criteria and has a cultural context that is not captured in objective measurements. Understanding elders’ perception will help establish common ground for communication between clinicians and elders and identify the most appropriate interventions to help elders achieve and maintain the experience of successful aging.