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Successful aging depends on how we weather experiences, experts find

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Zenobiah Jefferson, artist and art teacher. Photo Patricia Borns.

What constitutes "success" through the aging process depends on the cultural lens you're looking through, say experts from the Gerontological Society of America. While our ideal of successful aging comes from a non-Latino, white culture, that isn't necessarily appropriate for people from other ethnic or racial groups.

Through the stories of older African American women with early-stage heart disease, a study at the University of North Carolina showed that chronic and cumulative exposure to social and economic stressors contributed to the early onset of chronic illness in this group. Their descriptions of incidents of stress throughout their lives contributed to a "weathering" effect in which repetitive social, environmental, and family-related challenges increased their risk of disease. 

Rather than apply standardized measures to the aging process of very different cultural groups, the experts say understanding the challenges and best coping mechanisms within each group will make gerontologists' work more effective.

Many black elders won't discuss mental health issues, for example, fearing they'll be judged for consulting a psychotherapist. Families also figure strongly in successful African-American aging. The expectation that one will care for his or her parents is high, creating expectations that must be lived up on pain of guilt and depression. Read more. 

   

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