Resilience, Health, and Successful Aging in Seniors

Bounce back resourcefully from adversity

High resilience predicts better health and successful aging

Successful aging arises from several sources, including physical and mental health. A cross-sectional study used data from 1,006 persons over age 50 living in San Diego County, California, as part of the Successful Aging Evaluation Study. Researchers found that perceived stress moderated the relationship between physical health, mental health, and self-reported successful aging. In addition, researchers found that high resilience and social support diminished perceived stress and promoted better self-reported successful aging. Plus, researchers found that physical health and social support interacted to reduce perceived stress. Mental health and resilience also interacted to reduce perceived stress and directly boosted self-reported successful aging. Thus, better physical and mental health, greater resilience, and greater social support directly and indirectly predicted increased self-perceived successful aging.

In common parlance, resilience refers to the ability to bounce back resourcefully from adversity. The American Psychological Association defines resilience as, “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress.” The word "process" implies that resilience isn’t a fixed trait but can improve. A recent review identified mental, social, and physical characteristics linked to high resilience. Characteristics included adaptive coping, optimism, hopefulness, positive emotions, social support, community involvement, ability to independently perform activities of daily living, and being physically active. Mental and social characteristics appear to be most important in building resilience. People with high resilience typically enjoy positive life outcomes including successful aging, lower depression, and greater longevity. As recently as 2016, validated interventions that promoted resilience in older people did not exist. Nevertheless, seniors who embrace healthy lifestyle choices, especially Keep Moving, Cultivate Social Connections, Defuse Chronic Stress, Keep Learning, Develop a Positive Mental Attitude, and Live with Purpose, will likely build high resilience.

Given the long list of positive attributes of resilience, a team of Canadian researchers wondered if resilience was linked to self-rated health in seniors outside the US. Data came from the International Mobility in Aging Study, which included participants with an average of 73 years from Albania, Brazil, Canada (both Ontario and Quebec), and Columbia. Resilience was evaluated with the 14-item Wagnild Resilience Scale. Scores were categorized as high or low resilience. Analysis showed that high resilience predicted good self-rated health of older adults, while adverse childhood experiences did not. In other words, highly resilient older adults were healthier regardless of adverse childhood experiences. Thus, resilience may play role in building social and biological strengths that increase self-related health in older adults. Analysis also showed stark differences in resilience, income sufficiency, economic and social adverse childhood experiences, and physical function among the different countries. Unsurprisingly, participants more developed countries with stable political and economic systems fared much better than participants in countries without these characteristics. Social capital refers to the interplay of cooperative and trusting relationships among people that facilitates group action to address shared needs. Also unsurprisingly, social capital also predicted better self-reported health in seniors.

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