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Successful Aging

Successful Aging is a concept often operationalized as maintaining physical function and avoiding disability (1). It has been a subject of research for more than three decades, and is now a subject of international interest (2).


September 16, 2009
By Kevin D. Willison

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Successful Aging is a concept often operationalized as maintaining physical function and avoiding disability (1). It has been a subject of research for more than three decades, and is now a subject of international interest (2).

However, this orientation is often defined as having an absence of disease as well as high levels of physical and mental functioning, which could exclude such vulnerable populations as the chronically ill elderly (3a-b). Therefore, a broader definition of “successful aging” is needed.

aging

For massage therapists (MTs) who work with the chronically ill older population, successful aging could be re-defined as an outcome of ways found to maximize and/or enrich an individual’s physical and mental health potential.

Towards this goal, MTs may help their older clients with chronic dysfunctions find ways to target, as much as possible, high-level wellness (4).

Injury prevention may also be targeted. These approaches can be successful regardless of when it is started (5). Even in advanced old age, one can improve strength, decrease the risk of falls, and improve the
ability to live independently (6).

Fall prevention is one example of preventative strategies that are unique to the elderly (7). So, while chronic conditions often cannot be cured, they may possibly be prevented from causing further disability (8). Disuse of muscle groups, for example, can increase and/or aggravate chronic and debilitating conditions.

Decreases in musculoskeletal functioning, endurance, lean body mass, strength and flexibility can all result from disuse (9). Older people are susceptible to such disuse particularly if they have one or more chronic conditions that hinder or prevent them from being active. By helping to ameliorate these problems through rehabilitative techniques like massage, older individuals may maximize their potential to maintain and/or enrich their independence (10).

Chronic conditions and disability are frequently cited in the literature as predictors of complementary/
alternative medicine (CAM) usage (11-19). According to members of Stanford University’s School of Medicine (20), CAM therapies have the potential to enhance successful aging, reduce frailty, and increase independence and quality of life in older persons, especially those therapies that may decrease the impact of cardiovascular and musculoskeletal diseases. Massage could act as one such therapy. 

The World Health Organization has indicated that rapid deterioration of an individual with chronic illness can result if no treatment is provided. It therefore becomes crucial to identify the treatable components of a functional problem afflicting the elderly person and to provide appropriate therapeutic interventions (21).

Programs used in conjunction with other services, such as massage, could support successful aging and potentially be used to proactively manage health care towards the goal of either generating health improvements or at least slowing decline (22).

As the future of massage therapy unfolds in the climate of an aging population, more emphasis on the potential benefits of massage, to enhance successful aging, is needed.


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