OBJECTIVE: To understand the meanings attributed to self-assessment of health by the elderly. METHODS: Qualitative study performed with 17 elderly individuals (> 70 years of age) of both sexes, living in the city of Bambuí, Southeastern Brazil, in 2008. An anthropological approach based on the model of signs, meanings and actions, which associates individual actions, cultural codes and the macro-social context, was used. Semi-structured interviews were conducted, focusing on self-assessment of health, description of health as "good" and "poor" and the criteria used by the elderly to rate their own health. ANALYSIS OF RESULTS: The idea organizing reports associates self-assessment of health by the elderly with the "participating in life" and "being anchored in life" logics. The first logic has autonomy as its basic line of thinking, including the following categories: remaining active within advanced instrumental and functional abilities, being in charge of one's life (as opposed to being dependent on others), being able to solve problems and acting at will. The second logic unites the following categories: being able to interact, being engaged in meaningful relationships and being able to rely on family members, friends and neighbors. CONCLUSIONS: Health is understood by the elderly as having autonomy in the exercise of functional abilities required by society, such as the ability to meet family obligations and the ability to perform social roles. By defining their health as good or fair, the elderly individual is not characterized as someone free from diseases, but rather able to act over the environment.
Health of the Elderly; Self Assessment (Health); Personal Autonomy; Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice