Gerotranscendence and Alaska Native Successful Aging in the Aleutian Pribilof Islands, Alaska.


Wortman ES(1), Lewis JP(2).
Author information:
(1)University of Washington School of Medicine, 1959 NE Pacific St, Seattle, WA, 98195, USA. [Email]
(2)University of Minnesota Medical School, 624 E. 1st. Street, Suite 201, Duluth, MN, 55805, USA.


The population of the United States is aging and by 2045 it is projected that approximately 1 in every 6 Alaskans will be 65+. Delivering healthcare and meeting the needs of older Alaskans in their community is critical to supporting healthy aging and community sustainability. Alaska Native (AN) Elders are underserved with very few studies providing an emic perspective on their experience aging. This research opens the door and allows us a glimpse of the AN Elder experience of aging: the values, beliefs, and behaviors that allow them to age well. This study highlights the characteristics and activities of AN Elders in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands to further develop the model of AN successful aging. There are many theories of aging and this study explores a cross-cultural understanding of gerotranscendence - the personal and interpersonal changes that result from successful aging or achieving Eldership. This study interviewed Elders in two communities of the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands region. Using 22 standardized questions based on the explanatory model, researchers facilitated discussion of what it means to be an Elder and age successfully. Employing thematic analysis, interview transcripts were analyzed for themes to organize the data. Themes were organized into 5 core elements of successful aging with specific emphasis on values, beliefs, and behaviors that were protective and helped them adapt to aging-related changes. Interview content, meaning, and themes support the four elements of the AN model of successful aging developed by Lewis (The Gerontologist, 51(4), 540-549, 2011): Mental and Emotional Wellbeing, Spirituality, Purposefulness and Engagement, and Physical Health. Elders' stories highlight the importance of reflection, personal growth, and psychosocial development. Elders who more strongly identified with their role in the community described how their perspective had changed and they shared stories that emphasized culture, connection to the land, and enjoyment of daily activities that resulted in increased life satisfaction. Elders provided clear evidence that they experienced aspects of gerotranscendence, which Tornstam (Journal of Aging Studies, 11(2), 143-154, 1997) categorized as the cosmic dimension, the self, and social and personal relationships. Elders adapting to aging-related changes and embracing their role as an Elder provided the greatest evidence of gerotranscendence - they developed new perspectives on life, took on new roles within the community, and experienced a shift in mindset that reinforced the importance of culture, tradition, and the Native Way of Life. This research allowed AN Elders to share their experiences, define successful aging, and expand the concept of Eldership to include changes in mindset, values, and relationships with themselves and others. The study is a framework to help us better understand the experiences of AN Elders aging successfully and the wisdom they wish to impart to others to help them learn to live healthy and meaningful lives.