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Transitions in Aging

Community Participation

Adapting to Overcome Barriers

Older woman uses power scooter with others, all wearing race numbers

  • Adapt to changes as we age
  • Find new ways to participate in the activities we used to enjoy
  • Let's talk about how to do this...

NEXT: Some Ways to Participate in the Community

Notes and References

We can work through all of these barriers by adapting!1

Let’s apply three components--selection, optimization, and compensation--to the changes related to aging. Selection is about the choices we make, such as deciding to go for a walk, instead of watching TV. Optimization is what we can do to achieve the selected goal, such as taking our walk in the morning when we feel energetic, instead of doing it in the evening after a long day of work. Compensation refers to the adaptations we make in order to perform what we used to do. Following the same example, we enjoy our morning walks. However, our arthritis pain affects our ability to go for a long walk. We decide, therefore, to take frequent breaks during our long walk or to take several short walks throughout the day. We can apply these three principles in adapting to changes related to age. We can think about choosing activities we like to do, use support or assistive devices to optimize our enjoyment, and compensate for any age-related changes so that we can participate in activities we love or continue to be engaged with the community. Let's look at an example.

Catherine enjoyed cooking meals for her family. However, since her husband passed away, she has lost her motivation to cook. She has also experienced some changes in her body, such as stiffness in her fingers and blurred vision when looking at close objects. These changes have made it difficult for her to chop ingredients or to set the oven temperature and times. Catherine and her family discussed the different ways she could continue to cook because it really made her happy. For example, she could cook with her family, friends, and support assistant. Instead of preparing the meal all by herself, she can choose to teach her family, friends, and support assistant how to cook the meal. Catherine can assist the cooking process by giving cooking instructions to others. She can also choose some recipes that do not involve chopping so she can cook the food by herself. To compensate for the stiffness in her hands, she can also choose different cooking devices, such as spoons with an easier grip, or use a mixer when cooking and baking. Finally, to optimize her experience, she can choose to cook her favorite recipes so she can enjoy the cooking process and the delicious product.

There are many different adaptive tools to help us to continue to do something we like to do. To find more information on the types of tools available, visit the Pennsylvania Institute on Adaptive Technology website in the "Resources" tab.

It is important to recognize that we will experience some changes throughout the aging process. To adapt to these changes successfully, we need to be aware of how we're doing in all areas of our lives and to be able to recognize when we need some support. Keeping an open discussion with our family, support staff, physicians, therapists, or assistive device specialists about these bodily changes and the ways to adapt to them helps in this process.3


  1. Boker, S. M. (2013). Selection, optimization, compensation and equilibrium dynamics. GeroPsych, 26(1), 61-73.
  2. Stancliffe, R. J., Bigby, C., Balandin, S., Wilson, N. J., & Craig, D. (2015). Transition to retirement and participation in mainstream community groups using active mentoring: A feasibility and outcomes evaluation with a matched comparison group. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 59(8), 703-718.
  3. LaPlante, M. P. (2014). Key goals and indicators for successful aging of adults with early-onset disability. Disability and Health Journal, 7(1), S44-S50.