I’ve just begun my ph.d.-project here at Medical Museion. Titled “A genealogical study of the concept of successful aging and its relation to the idea of human enhancement”, the project is financed by the new Center for Healthy Aging at the Faculty of Health Sciences.

Below is the first part of the project description concerning the notion of successful aging. In two following parts I will first introduce the possible relation between successful aging and human enhancement, and then my attempt to narrow the project to cognitive aspects of ageing and cognitive enhancement. Comments to one or all three parts are much appreciated.

The genealogy of the notion of ’successful aging’
At present there is much focus on the notion of successful aging (healthy aging, optimal aging) in Denmark and other developed countries. The increasing life expectancy of the population in combination with low birth rate and low rate of immigration gives rise to both political and economic concerns about the future maintenance of the living standards for an aging workforce. The increasing number of elderly people gives rise to new demands for developing new knowledge about how individuals can live a healthy life and remain healthy, even in old age.

The notion of ‘successful aging’ is not new. It can in fact be traced back to at least the 1960’s and became ubiquitous in the field of aging research in the 1980′ and 1990’s [1][2][3][4][5]. The dissemination of the notion is connected to a development trend in aging research, whereby scientists gradually changed their understanding of aging as a research object for gerontological/geriatric research. From primarily being concerned with the treatment of diseases in later part of a life course to an increased focus on disease prevention and to a broader public health oriented approach to aging involving several different scientific fields, also beyond the biomedical sciences [4][6], cf. [7].

The aim of this project is to undertake a genealogical study[8][9] of the development of the notion of successful aging from the increased focus on prevention in the middle of the 1980’s until today. The literature on the subject is sparse, consisting of a few short chapters with an overview of the historical development of age research, cf. [6][10]. A more detailed historical study of this development based on the primary literature (scientific articles, textbooks, policy documents, etc.), is supposedly going to produce a deeper and better understanding of the notion of successful aging, which in turn will help qualify the current scientific and public discussions about the prevention and treatment of age-related diseases. The study will thus hopefully also help identify some of the conditions that may influence future understandings of what ‘successful aging’ is and the ways in which the future research in the field might develop.

1. Williams, Richard H., and Wirth, Claudine, G. (1965). Lives through the years: styles of life and successful aging. New York: Prentice-Hall.
2. Rowe, J. W. and Kahn, R. L. (1987). Human Aging: Usual and Successful. Science, 237: 143-149.
3. Rowe, J. W. and Kahn, R. L. (1998). Successful aging. USA: Pantheon Books.
4. Baltes, P. B. and Baltes, M. M. (1990) (eds.). Successful aging: Perspectives from the behavioral sciences. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
5. Bond, L. A., S. J. Cutler, and A. Grams (1995). Promoting Successful and Productive Aging. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
6. Amstrup, K og Poulsen, I. (2007). Geriatri – en tværfaglig udfordring. København: Munksgaard Danmark.
7. Kirk, H. (2008). Med hjernen i behold – Kognition, træning og seniorkompetencer. København: Akademisk Forlag.
8. Villadsen, K. (2006). Genealogi som metode: fornuftens tilblivelseshistorier. Kaspar Villadsen & Ole Bjerg (2005) (eds.). Sociologiske metoder: Fra teori til empiri i kvalitative og kvantitative studier. Frederiksberg: Samfundslitteratur.
9. Foucault, Michel (1992). The archaeology of knowledge. London: Routledge.
10. Bengtson, V.L. and Schaie, K.W (1999) (eds.). Handbook of Theories of Aging. New York: Springer Publishing Company, inc.

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