Myth: 12% Of All Older Adults Are Aging Successfully

“Only 12% of all older adults are aging successfully.” Dr. Bruce Blaine and Dr. Kimberly J.
McClure Brenchley, Understanding The Psychology of Diversity ( 2017)

My blood pressure has gone up at least 10 points as I write this response to the misguided
people who wrote this myth originally in 1986, (John Rowe and Robert Kahn), and those above
who continue to perpetuate this myth. It makes me absolutely crazy when seemingly
intelligent, educated people (the authors quoted above) buy into flawed research based on
what we would now call the “Top Three-Percenters,” which is the only group whose members
might qualify for aging successfully. The criteria was so narrow. I disagree with the choice of the
word, “successful,” the virtually impossible, near-perfect health conditions Rowe and Kahn put
forth, and the fact that books continue to be printed based on erroneous ideas.

Here is the truth as I see it: First, as I have said in my articles and videos, the word “successful”
was the wrong word choice from the get-go, and using it sets up the perfect counter-belief for
failing at aging (well), if Rowe and Kahn’s rigid criteria is not met. Secondly, almost all the
researchers in the years following 1986 challenged this rigid criteria and found it wanting, to
the extent that in the last ten years, no one ever qualifies aging in terms of success or failure.
Imagine my surprise finding not only the term, but the accepted definition of the term,
“successful aging” used in a book updated in 2017.

And lastly, as a gerontologist on the ground, working with older adults, I can tell you that so
many of us think we are aging well, despite some limitations. As we also now know, what you
believe influences your biology more than any single factor (genetics coming in at 20%) and I’m
not about to tell these vibrant older adults they are full of hooey!

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