An examination of healthy aging across a conceptual continuum: prevalence estimates, demographic patterns, and validity.

TitleAn examination of healthy aging across a conceptual continuum: prevalence estimates, demographic patterns, and validity.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsMcLaughlin, SJ, Jette, AM, Connell, CM
JournalJ Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci
Date Published2012 Jun
ISSN Number1758-535X
KeywordsAged, Aged, 80 and over, Aging, Cognition, Female, health, Humans, Male, Odds Ratio, Prevalence, Reproducibility of Results

BACKGROUND: Although the notion of healthy aging has gained wide acceptance in gerontology, measuring the phenomenon is challenging. Guided by a prominent conceptualization of healthy aging, we examined how shifting from a more to less stringent definition of healthy aging influences prevalence estimates, demographic patterns, and validity.

METHODS: Data are from adults aged 65 years and older who participated in the Health and Retirement Study. We examined four operational definitions of healthy aging. For each, we calculated prevalence estimates and examined the odds of healthy aging by age, education, gender, and race-ethnicity in 2006. We also examined the association between healthy aging and both self-rated health and death.

RESULTS: Across definitions, the prevalence of healthy aging ranged from 3.3% to 35.5%. For all definitions, those classified as experiencing healthy aging had lower odds of fair or poor self-rated health and death over an 8-year period. The odds of being classified as "healthy" were lower among those of advanced age, those with less education, and women than for their corresponding counterparts across all definitions.

CONCLUSIONS: Moving across the conceptual continuum--from a more to less rigid definition of healthy aging--markedly increases the measured prevalence of healthy aging. Importantly, results suggest that all examined definitions identified a subgroup of older adults who had substantially lower odds of reporting fair or poor health and dying over an 8-year period, providing evidence of the validity of our definitions. Conceptualizations that emphasize symptomatic disease and functional health may be particularly useful for public health purposes.

User Guide Notes

Endnote Keywords

Gerontology/Aging/Demographics/Personal health/Older people/Public health

Endnote ID


Alternate JournalJ Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci
Citation Key7721
PubMed ID22367432
PubMed Central IDPMC3536546
Grant ListT32HD007422 / HD / NICHD NIH HHS / United States
U01AG009740 / AG / NIA NIH HHS / United States