Abstract: Capable Aging: The Application of the Health Capability Model (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Capable Aging: The Application of the Health Capability Model

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 7, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Leyi Zhou, MSW, Geriatric Social Worker, LMSW, OHEL Children's home and Family Services, Brooklyn, NY
Jennifer Prah Ruger, PhD, Amartya Sen Professor of Health Equity, Economics, and Policy Faculty Chair at the Center for High Impact Philanthropy (CHIP) Director, Health Equity and Policy Lab (HEPL), University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Background and Purpose:

Understanding the aging process and aging life is an area of great interest for both scholars and society. Scholars have developed and applied aging models to the understanding of aging-related issues (e.g., health conditions, social life, social policy). Comparing and contrasting different aging models, and analyzing their strengths and weakness, this research found strong points and limitations to existing models. Some models lay a foundation for aging theory but offer little guidance for either personal action or policy making. Other models do not fully account for the external factors that may impact our aging life, such as socioeconomic changes, social networks, and social norms, because they focus mainly on individuals’ physical and psychological health. It is clear that more research is required to address the theoretical and practical gaps in existing models. This research helps to fill this gap by analyzing 11 aging models from the literature and proposing an alternative conceptual framework, Capable Aging, inspired by the Health Capability model, to bridge the gaps in existing models and lay the foundation for a thorough understanding of aging.


This research first explores the strengths and weaknesses of existing aging models. Second, it develops a Capable Aging Model, based on the Health Capability Model, and describes the Capable Aging Profile based on the Health Capability Profile. Third, 13 case studies are conducted to validate the application of Capable Aging in helping people cope with aging-related health issues. Finally, the research includes a thematic analysis of the case studies to explain how Capable Aging supports people in dealing with complicated health issues throughout their aging lives.


The theoretical framework of Capable Aging consists of the Capable Aging Model and the Capable Aging Profile. The Capable Aging model explains how individual and societal factors interact to affect people’s capability in achieving better aging lives. The Capable Aging Profile provides a measurable profile to operationalize people’s capability and determine the meaning of each health capability component, how to measure it, how to develop it, and how to promote it. Each of the items in the Capable Aging profile is clarified and and measured. In this way, individuals can develop strategies toward aging well, and society can adjust policies on the basis of data and research.

Conclusion and Implications:

Capable Aging provides education and guidance to people on both theoretical and practical levels, developing our confidence in creating a better aging life. At the individual level, Capable Aging provides a framework to help people enhance their ability to manage changes and concerns that arise in the aging process, understand and manage health conditions, and make healthy choices and counter negative social norms regarding age. At the societal level, Capable Aging offers guidance to society regarding how to create the conditions to better support people to enable them to flourish as people age.