What constitutes successful ageing is a complex concept. Attention was directed towards this notion in the 1980s when Rowe and Kahn defined the three criteria required for successful ageing: 1) a low probability of disease, 2) maintaining a high level of physical and cognitive function, and 3) an active social life.
The Successful Ageing model (Rowe & Kahn, 1999) demonstrates that older people need to be proactive, in a number of areas, to maximise their chances for prolonged independent living. This requires: maintaining cognitive and physical function, and close personal relationships; undertaking productive activities; and retaining functional independence.
1. Maintaining a high level of cognitive and physical function
The various elements of the model are interrelated, and engaging in novel learning experiences enhance cognitive functioning. It follows that people may be revitalised late in life with appropriate training.
... it may be prudent, practical, and commonplace to recommend cognitively-stimulating activities as a way of preventing dementia. (Alzheimer’s Disease newsletter, 2007)
If we focus on only one element of the model it should be maintaining a regular exercise routine of: stretching, strengthening, balance, and cardio-vascular exercises. These exercises form the bedrock of a successful ageing programme. Physical exercises have wide-ranging physiological benefits that including cognitive functioning. People who exercise moderately to vigorously at least once a week are 30 per cent more likely to maintain their cognitive function than those who do not exercise that often. It is clear that exercise is a behaviour that people can change.
2. Maintaining an active social life and undertaking productive activities
The importance of social networks is one of the most enduring findings from social science research. A small cadre of friends is essential to maintain well-being throughout life. Without friends we run the risk of entering a downward spiral of depression, leading to ill health, depression, and the loss of independent living.
Intellectually challenging and socially invigorating activities for people to be productively engaged are infinite in number. People working or volunteering and people who live with someone are 24 per cent more likely to maintain cognitive function in late life. Seek and ye shall find.
3. Promote a low probability of disease
Retaining independence is a function of a healthy lifestyle to promote a low probability of disease. We all know the story. It is clear that smoking is a behaviour that people can change.