Successful aging as an oxymoron Older people – with and without home-help care – talk about what aging well means to them

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Sandra Torres
Gunhild Hammarström

Abstract

Notions of what it means to age well or successfully are central to social gerontological research and practice. As such, one would expect that there would be consensus as to what the construct of successful aging means and/or how aging well is achieved. This is not, however, the case which is why this study explores the meanings that a group of older people (i.e. some with home-help care and some without) attach to this construct. The empirical material is constituted of 16 semi-structured interviews. The findings bring to fore the different resources (such as physical, mental, psycho-social, spiritual, and financial ones) that are associated with successful aging and the kind of outlook on life that is regarded as useful if one wants to age well. Differences between home-help care recipients and those that do not receive this type of care were found. Those that are managing without the help offered by home-help care services listed more resources and offered more nuanced descriptions of what successful aging means than those that receive home- help care. This suggests that receiving home-help care and/or not being able to manage primarily on one’s own might shape the manner in which older people think about what constitutes a good old age. The in-depth analysis of the notions of successful aging that were brought to the fore suggests also the paradoxical fact that the title of this article attests to; namely that some associate aging well with not aging at all and deem, in fact, the term successful aging to be an oxymoron.

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