Reconceptualizing Positive Aging to Support Older Latino Adults

Latino perceptions of "positive aging" or "successful aging" may vary from other cultural groups. However, few research projects examine these differences from the perspective of multiple stakeholders. Funded by the Collaborative Research Partners Program from Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging, this community-based participatory research project employs concept-mapping methods to understand how older Latino residents of Cook County conceive of “positive aging” and how such conceptions are consistent with those of community leaders and scholars of aging.

This study occurs over two phases and relies heavily on the contributions of local community leaders and scholars of aging who serve on a 20-member steering committee. Our partners help inform the recruitment, data collection, interpretation, and dissemination stages of the project. They include representatives from a number of well-respected organizations in the Chicagoland area such as Mather LifeWays, Casa Central, AgeOptions, and other key stakeholders.

In Phase 1, investigators used a literature review to develop initial lists of concepts that describe positive aging. Our steering committee reviewed and contributed to the list. Later, they sorted items into categories and rated them by order of importance. They also nominated 20 additional scholars and providers to provide input in how such stakeholders conceive of “positive aging.” These data generated a three-dimensional “concept map” that pictorially displays points of convergence and divergence among the different stakeholders (Latino/non-Latino; community leaders and providers/scholars of aging). This first phase of the study serves as the foundation for a second phase, in which older Latino adults in the community will be asked about positive aging.

Phase 2 replicates the process with Latino older adults, but with a different starting point. For the community study, 9 focus groups generate items related to positive aging (rather than using the literature). These data will be collected in English and Spanish and used to generate a community map. Lastly, the community map will be compared to the stakeholder map generated in Phase 1. This comparison will form the basis for future programs designed to promote positive aging among Latino older adults.

This study uses two methodological innovations.

Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR)

  • Promotes research in setting where people live, work, play, and otherwise experience their daily lives.
  • Ensures higher levels of participation and flexible study designs responsive to the needs of the community.
  • An effective strategy for reaching immigrant, Spanish-speaking Latinos.
  • Endorses active collaboration with community partners at every stage of the research.
  • This philosophy underlies the formation of the steering committee and its on-going contribution to the study.

Concept mapping (CM)

  • Helps a diverse group describe their ideas about a topic in a pictorial form.
  • An empirical process for researchers to engage a diverse group of stakeholders in the creation of a conceptual framework.

Recent research highlights the importance of adapting interventions for different populations. Concept mapping converts statements about positive aging from the literature and subject area experts into quantitative data and generates topographical maps for comparing different stakeholder groups. This process enables us to identify gaps between the priorities of older Latino adults and those of “experts” who adhered to a set of best practices for aging “positively.” In doing so, this study aims to provide insights to better tailor interventions that support America’s rapidly growing and diverse older Latino population. Future projects will focus on the development and testing of interventions tailored specifically for Latinos.

Current Investigative Team


  • Melissa Howe, PhD (PI-NORC)
  • Lissette Piedra, PhD (UIUC)
  • Kendon Conrad, PhD (UIC)
  • John Ridings, MSW, PhD (ISW)
  • Cate O’Brien, PhD (Mather LifeWays)
  • Jennifer Smith, PhD (Mather LifeWays)
  • Alexis Howard, MA (NORC/University of Chicago)