While we know that minority status differentiates the experience of aging, little research has been done to examine the ways in which patterns of successful aging may differ in diverse subgroups of older adults. In this exploratory study, we investigated and described experiences of successful aging in a sample of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults. Directed by a community-based participatory research process, we conducted semi-structured in-depth interviews with 22 LGBT adults, age 60 and older. We took an inductive, grounded theory approach to analyze the taped and transcribed interviews. We coded respondent experiences in four domains: physical health, mental health, emotional state and social engagement. Four gradations of successful aging emerged. Very few in our sample met the bar for "traditional success" characterized by the absence of problems in all four domains of health. Most of the sample was coping to a degree with problems and was categorized in one of two gradations on a continuum of successful aging: "surviving and thriving" and "working at it." A small number was "ailing": not coping well with problems. Some of the experiences that respondents described were related to LGBT status; others were related to more general processes of aging. The research suggests that a successful aging framework that is modified to include coping can better describe the experiences of LGBT older adults. The modified conceptual model outlined here may be useful in future research on this population, as well as more broadly for diverse populations of adults, and may be adapted for use in practice to assess and improve health and well-being.
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