Salutogenesis - a new and positive way to look at aging and health

Last month's Heath Letter from the Mayo Clinic had a feature article on "salutogenesis" (Latin for the "origins of health") which the clinic's newsletter says is an important new concept in the study of healthy aging. Usually we and the media talk about diseases and disabilities. Salutogenesis shifts the focus to what supports our health and well-being.

The concept was developed by Aaron Antonovsky , a medical sociologist, based on his study of the narratives of Holocaust survivors. He explored the factors that kept people – particularly those in tough situations – healthy. He found that a person’s ability to survive adversity depended on two key factors:

•Having a sense of coherence – being able to make sense of your life that helps manage stresses

•Having resources that help you understand and structure your life. These resources may be tangible – like money and housing. But they also can include factors such as life experience, intelligence, social support, and traditions.

Antonovsky felt that our sense of coherence was shaped by recognizing that:

•Life has a certain predictability – it can be understood.

•You possess sufficient resources to manage life’s challenges.

•Because your life makes sense and has meaning, it’s worth spending your energy t0 address the challenges.

A fourth factor – emotional closeness – was added later. Having a sense of connection to others and feeling part of a community are central to good health and well-being.

Antonovsky suggested that older adults – drawing on prior experience managing stressful situations – posses greater capacity to make sense of the world.

This approach really appealed to me.I read the Mayo Clinic newsletter piece on salutogenesis in late December, so when it came time for New Year’s resolutions I resolved to focus on th factors that contribute to the relatively good health that I enjoy as I approach my 85th birthday and my fifth anniversary of my Parkinson’s diagnosis.

Many of the January posts on my blog (“Aging and Parkinson’s and Me”- have tracked this exploration. Accentuating the positive by looking at my “origins of health” has lifted my spirits

9 Replies

  • A method of Psychotherapy known as Logotherapy deals with the impact of Meaning in one's life......came from experiences of survivor's of Nazi Concentration camps. In addition a book and Public Television Special by Dr Lissa Rankin MD titled "Mind Over Medicine" addresses this issue.

  • The holocaust survivor who wrote from his own personal experience (and developed Logotherapy) is Viktor Frankl and his classic book is Man's Search For Meaning. Frankl was a neurologist and psychiatrist.

    Gleeson thankyou for this post.

  • Hello Gleeson

    Your post is interesting to me as I have long felt an affinity to people on this website, simply because they are sharing in the same situation as my wife and I as we cope daily as a PwP and their carer. Personally I draw great comfort from reading about people's experiences in what has or has not worked for them. In fact, if it wasn't for this contact with others, I shudder to think how I would have coped. Probably not!

    Whilst I am far from pleased that I have developed Parkinson's, having 'it' has certainly changed me, hopefully for the best (but probably not always - ask my wife about that one'). It has has made me think about what is important in my life and what I now determine to be frivolous. I am more careful about what I eat, whereas previously I didn't bother. In short, I believe that I have fundamentally changed my outlook on life.

    Thank you for your post on this subject.


  • We inspire one another probably without even realizing it. It's as if we have a contract or compact with each other to persevere and make sense out of this difficult challenge that life has thrown down before us. We all know intimately what it's like, how hard it is. The work is to find some pleasure every day, maybe some joy, and in this find an affirmation that life is still worth it--that life is still meaningful.

  • Quirkyme

    Deep and so true.


  • What a shame that many of the non motor symptoms of Parkinson's (anxiety, depression and apathy) cause people to shrink away from contact and relationships with others.

  • I wonder why that is.... are we ashamed of our appearance and affect and symptoms? Is it all too hard just to go out? Do we feel better when we do go out? One little mentioned part of depression is 'anhedonia' or the inability to feel pleasure, to enjoy life. My husband and I are retired (we're grateful to be able to retire), and our days are spent in contact while giving each other space. It's an elaborate dance. I keep him oriented, telling him what day it is, suggesting he needs to take his pill before eating, etc. Letting him be. It's intuitive. If he were in a nursing home, he wouldn't do half so well.

    With that said, what helps us is staying grateful--for little things and big: that he doesn't have Alzheimer's, that he's otherwise healthy, that he still enjoys life, that we have a team of caregivers that we can take health problems to. That they are reliably there and helpful. For all this and more we are grateful. Let me count the ways....

  • Hello Quirkyme

    I believe the reason why we sometimes feel embarrassed and even ashamed about our symptoms may be due to still having an ego which is telling us that we are less than perfect. You've only to look at adverts for various products showing young, fit and healthy, people enjoying life to the full. If you are not the same as these people, then you are a lesser being.

    For me, as I get older, I can feel my ego shrinking and I am beginning to take on the world, just as I am, with no image to keep up. It has taken me 67 yrs to reach this point.



  • what you write is so true. Letting go of our old self, our young and able self, is hard to do. My husband and I went out to lunch and as it was snowing, few people were there. I ended up feeding him so he'd enjoy it while it was hot. The waitress went by without saying a word. (She's kind and had provided spoons at our request). We have gotten to the point where it's not embarrassing. Let people make of it what they will. They are all adults and can deal with eating in public with someone with a disability.

    My phrase, from years of doing hospice work: "It is what it is"--I know, maybe a cop out. But it's just how our lives are. No need for embarrassment at all. This is a human situation. He had an enjoyable, hot meal and we shared time together just being in that moment. As you imply, ego can get in the way, to former 'you' whereas the present 'you' is pretty neat and retains his dignity and worth as a human being, no matter what.

You may also like...