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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide
 

Successful Aging Through the Eyes
of Alaska Native Elders:

What It Means to be an Elder
in Bristol Bay, Alaska

A Thesis

Presented to the
Faculty of the
University of Alaska Fairbanks

In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree of

DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

by
Jordan Paul Lewis, M.S.W.
Fairbanks, Alaska
December 2009

 

Dissertation:
http://ankn.uaf.edu/Curriculum/PhD_Projects/JordanLewis/2009_Lewis_dissertation.pdf
(7.3 MB)

Video of Defense

Abstract:

Alaska Natives view aging from a holistic perspective, an approach not typically found in the existing literature on successful aging. There is little research on Alaska Native (AN) Elders and how they subjectively define a successful older age. The lack of a culturally specific definition often results in the use of a generic definition that portrays AN Elders as aging less successfully than their non-Native counterparts. This research explores the concept of successful aging from an AN perspective and what it means to age well in AN communities.

An Explanatory Model (EM) approach was used and adapted to focus on the health and well-being of AN Elders and to gain a sense of their beliefs about aging. Qualitative, in-depth interviews were conducted with 26 Elders in six participating communities to explore the concept of successful aging and the role of their community in the aging process. Focus groups were held in specific communities to present the findings and receive feedback; this ensured the findings and report would be reflective of the unique perspectives of the communities and region.

This study highlights four domains of successful aging, or “Eldership”: emotion, spirituality, community engagement, and physical health. One aspect of successful aging seen in each of these four domains is optimism, or having a positive outlook on life. These four domains serve as the foundation of how communities define who is an Elder and what is important when considering whether someone has aged successfully or not. Research findings also indicate that aging successfully is based on local understandings about personal responsibility and making the conscious decision to live a clean and healthy life. Most Elders stated that Elder status is not determined by reaching a certain age (e.g., 65 years), but instead is designated when an individual has demonstrated wisdom because of the experiences he or she has gained throughout life. This research seeks to inform future studies on rural aging that will prioritize the perspectives of Elders to impact positively on the delivery of health care services and programs in rural Alaska.

 

 

Go to University of AlaskaThe University of Alaska Fairbanks is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and educational institution and is a part of the University of Alaska system.

 


Alaska Native Knowledge Network
University of Alaska Fairbanks
PO Box 756730
Fairbanks  AK 99775-6730
Phone (907) 474.1902
Fax (907) 474.1957
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Last modified July 16, 2010