Background: There is currently a lack of consensus on the definition of successful aging (SA) and existing implementations have omitted constructs associated with SA. We used empirical methods to develop a dimensional model of SA that incorporates a wider range of associated variables, and we examined the relationship among these components using factor analysis and Bayesian Belief Nets.
Methods: We administered a successful aging questionnaire comprising several standardized measures related to SA to a sample of 1948 older women enrolled in the San Diego site of the Women's Health Initiative study. The SA-related variables we included in the model were self-rated successful aging, depression severity, physical and emotional functioning, optimism, resilience, attitude towards own aging, self-efficacy, and cognitive ability. After adjusting for age, education and income, we fitted an exploratory factor analysis model to the SA-related variables and then, in order to address relationships among these factors, we computed a Bayesian Belief Net (BBN) using rotated factor scores.
Results: The SA-related variables loaded onto five factors. Based on the loading, we labeled the factors as follows: self-rated successful aging, cognition, psychosocial protective factors, physical functioning, and emotional functioning. In the BBN, self-rated successful aging emerged as the primary downstream factor and exhibited significant partial correlations with psychosocial protective factors, physical/general status and mental/emotional status but not with cognitive ability.
Conclusions: Our study represents a step forward in developing a dimensional model of SA. Our findings also point to a potential role for psychiatry in improving successful aging by managing depressive symptoms and developing psychosocial interventions to improve self-efficacy, resilience, and optimism.