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How Resilience Affects Seniors

A large scale study recently published by The Gerontologist looked at the effects of the fuzzy concept, resilience, and how it impacts the lives of seniors. The surprising results of the study showed that this intangible concept can have a major effect on aging seniors‘ lives.

What is Resilience?

Resilience is a concept that is difficult to define. The study’s lead author described resilience as “how people manage adversity and hardship over the life course.” As one U.S. Supreme Court Justice once said about pornography, we know it when we see it.

The effects of resilience are easy to point out. Many elderly people deal with illness or loss in their later years. Some withdraw into isolation and inactivity even though they physically remain strong. However, others maintain a bright and sunny attitude despite the challenges, and they continue to be active physically as well as socially. Age, health, and finances cannot fully explain the differences in people, and the study focused on how that intangible, resilience, plays a role.

The Gerontologist Study

Scientists have been discussing and studying the concept of resilience for years. In this latest study, 10,753 people at an average age of 69 were drawn from three waves of the National Health and Retirement Study. The team of researchers created twelve items and asked each participant to rate the statement on a scale based on how strongly they agreed or disagreed.

These statements included things like “when I really want to do something, I usually find a way to succeed at it,” and “I have a sense of direction and purpose in life.” The study also included statements like, “if something can go wrong for me, it will,” and “there is really no way I can solve the problems I have.”

Over the course of two years, eleven percent of the participants developed a new chronic condition, yet the higher that the person scored on the resilience scale the less likely this new ailment disabled them. The study found that most of the seniors developed their resilience and ability to negotiate obstacles by overcoming tough experiences in their lives.

Effects of Resilience

The study looked at participants’ ability to do daily living activities. It found that when a new ailment or challenge struck, those with the least amount of resilience had three times the amount of daily living activity disabilities than the most resilient seniors. The effects of resilience seem to create a “moderating effect” in seniors’ lives. Even among the youngest participants in the group, when a new illness hit the amount of daily living activity disabilities among the least resilient were two times as many as the most resilient. The seniors with the most resilience are able to bounce back better and faster than those with less resilience. They are able to maintain function better and for a longer period of time.

Other Intangible Studies

Resilience is not the only amorphous concept being studied by researchers. Other reports that have been published show that a sense of purpose correlates to a lower rate of Alzheimer’s disease, and volunteering in schools is linked to better cognitive ability.

Even the concept of religiosity, regardless of what specific religion, appears to help lower rates of depression and certain physiological problems. Self-efficacy, mastery, and gratitude have all also been shown to have real world effects on the lives of seniors, and it’s becoming clear that health in old age is more than just medication and exercise.

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