Successful aging at 100 years

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Images: Participants from the PT100 – Oporto Centenarian Study being interviewed

The February International Psychogeriatrics Article of the Month is entitled “Successful aging at 100 years: the relevance of subjectivity and psychological resources” by Lia Araújo, Oscar Ribeiro, Laetitia Teixeira and Constança Paúl. This blog piece was written for us by one of the paper’s authors, Lia Araújo.

Successful aging is a desire that we all aspire for ourselves and for our loved ones. According to Rowe and Kahn’s definition, operationalized through the MacArthur study, individuals who met the three criteria of (i) avoiding disease and disability, (ii) high cognitive and physical functioning and (iii) engagement with life were identified as “successful agers”(1).

Another wish common to many of us is to live longer, why not up to 100!? Indeed, this can be a dream come true for an increasing number of individuals, since the oldest generations are becoming more representative and centenarians are likely to become more common(2).

Both wishes conjointly, a longer and successful aging, motivated the development of the PT100 – Oporto Centenarian Study(3). This population-based study was conducted in the north region of Portugal and included 140 centenarians who were interviewed face-to-face. We began to question ourselves what it means to be “successful” at such an advanced age and quickly got to ask the same question to our study participants. What we found was that sometimes the most relevant outcomes are from the perspective of the subjects themselves; and that together with the concern for problems and needs, we must capitalize on the real strengths of older people.

The criterion of little or no age-related decrements in physiologic function for those aging successfully does not apply to centenarians. However, when considering alternative criteria, based in centenarian´s self-perceptions of health, functional and cognitive capacity, a higher proportion of centenarians might be considered as successful. The paper also presents the influence of the available resources, such as individual strategies and external support, in improving subjective appraisals of successful aging, which confirms that certain internal resources (e.g., self-efficacy and purpose) are not overwhelmed by physical deterioration and may even gain power when corresponding and meaningful perceptions of oneself and one´s life are maintained in late life.

Successful aging at very advanced ages may not mean to stay healthy for even longer but rather to adapt. With that in our minds, as individuals, families, researchers, professionals or policy-makers, longer lives can and will be associated with improved quality of life in all ages and our wishes can become reality for our and next generations.

The full paper “Successful aging at 100 years: the relevance of subjectivity and psychological resources” is available free of charge for a limited time here.

The commentary paper “Success at 100 is easier said than done – comments on Araújo et al: successful aging at 100 years” by Peter Martin and Leonard W. Poon is also available free of charge here.

1. Rowe, J.W., & Kahn, R.L. (1997). Successful aging. Gerontologist, 37, 433-440.
2. Serra, V., Watson, J., Sinclair, D., & Kneale, D. (2011). Living Beyond 100: a report on centenarians. London: International Longevity Centre – UK.

A positive attitude to ageing


Lothian cohort corrected

The September International Psychogeriatrics Article of the Month is entitled ‘Life course influences of physical and cognitive function and personality on attitudes to aging in the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936’ by Susan D. Shenkin, Ken Laidlaw, Mike Allerhand, Gillian E. Mead, John M. Star and Ian J. Deary.


The population is ageing, with the proportion of people worldwide aged over 60 rising from 8% in 1950, to 10% in 2000 and 21% in 2050 1. This has led to widespread concern about the negative impact this may have on society. We were interested in exploring whether older people themselves share this negative view of ageing, or whether they might have a more positive outlook. We were also interested to explore what factors throughout their life predicted their attitudes to ageing.

We were able to do this using a group of people who have had detailed information collected about them throughout their life, and asking them to complete (another!) questionnaire. This freely available questionnaire 2 has been widely used to assess the experience and attitudes of older people themselves to ageing. It includes questions in three main areas called Psychosocial Loss (e.g. “Old age is a time of loneliness”), Physical Change (e.g. “I don’t feel old”), and Psychological Growth (e.g. “Wisdom comes with age”), which people scored from ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree’.

The group of people who completed the questionnaire were the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 3. These are people born in 1936 who sat a nationwide test of intelligence when they were aged 11, and have gone on to provide very detailed information about their life, including their health and cognition now they are older.

We found that these people (aged around 75, 51.4% male) were generally positive about the three aspects of ageing. When we explored what predicted these attitudes, we were surprised to find that their social background, IQ test scores and physical health didn’t relate very much to their attitudes. In general, the strongest predictors of their attitudes to ageing was their personality. Personality type is determined by a questionnaire 4.

Psychosocial loss (e.g. “I feel excluded from things” was more common in people with personalities stronger on Neuroticism, and lower on Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness, but also people with higher scores on a questionnaire assessing anxiety and depression, and people with more physical disability.

Physical Change (e.g. “My health is better than I expected”) was predicted by people with personality types of Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness, but also females, social class and less physical disability.

Psychological growth (e.g. “I am more accepting of myself”) was associated with similar personality types, but surprisingly a less affluent environment, living alone, lower prior cognitive ability and slower walking speed.

In general, in this group of relatively healthy volunteers in Scotland aged around 75 we found a positive attitude to ageing. These attitudes were mostly associated with personality type, but social circumstances, physical health and mood also played a role. It will be interesting to explore whether attitudes are similar or different in other groups e.g. in people with poorer physical or mental health, in different countries etc. An intriguing possibility is whether influencing people’s attitudes is possible, and might result in changes to mood or physical health. However, it is clear that we should all share a more positive view of our ageing society.


The full paper “Life course influences of physical and cognitive function and personality on attitudes to aging in the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936” is available free of charge for a limited time here.

The commentary on the paper, “Positive attitudes on aging: a life course view” is also available free of charge for a limited time here.




2) Attitudes to Ageing Questionnaire – AAQ (Laidlaw, K., Power, M. J. and Schmidt, S. (2007). The Attitudes to Ageing Questionnaire (AAQ): development and psychometric properties. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 22, 367–379

3) and Deary, I. J., Gow, A. J., Pattie, A., & Starr, J. M. (2011). Cohort Profile: The Lothian Birth Cohorts of 1921 and 1936. International Journal of Epidemiology. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyr197

4) (NEO-FFI: Costa, P. T. and McCrae, R. R. (1992). NEO PI-R and Professional Manual (Revised NEO Personality Inventory and NEO Five-Factor Inventory). Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources).


Image: ““Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 at a reunion in Edinburgh, 2007.  Credit: Douglas Robertson/Age UK”

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