Positive Aging: New Images For A New Age

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2002

Published In

Ageing International


The gerontological literature in the social sciences has typically characterized the aging process in terms of decline, degeneration, and decrepitude. Comparatively little attention has been paid to the possibility of growth, generativity, and development in the last decades of life. With the growing population of older people who enjoy increasing social, political and economic power, the willingness to accept the Dark Ages of aging has diminished; a more positive image of the aging person is invited. This paper explores the potential of gerontological inquiry to reconstruct aging in a positive mode. To illustrate the potentials, we show how a variety of research findings suggest that efforts to enhance physical health, emotional well-being, active engagement in life or meaningful relationships all work in a mutually reinforcing manner, with substantial positive consequences for aging people. To emphasize positive practices, we highlight the work being done with an approach called Appreciative Inquiry. Its impact on a large Florida health support system for elders is delineated. In addition, two case descriptions add qualitative weight to the emerging possibilities for positive aging. We conclude with a comparison of successful aging approaches to positive aging, finding common grounds, but also a significant difference in epistemological considerations.[PUBLICATION ABSTRACT]