Resilience: the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. As much as resilience involves “bouncing back” from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth. The good news is that resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.
In past blog posts, I have mentioned many of the characteristics or traits that research has identified as most commonly found in resilient people, families and organizations. Self-confidence, humor, optimism, gratitude, purpose, and social connectedness are just a few attributes that are more commonly found in those who are considered resilient – but can also be nurtured and developed in anyone.
For this article, I would like to focus more on older adults, aging and resiliency. A number of studies have shown that resilience does not decline with age and, when other facts have been taken into account, older adults are at least as resilient as younger adults. We also have to keep in mind that older adults can face additional life stressors like chronic health conditions, physical and cognitive decline, and a potential loss of roles and social support. So for them, resilience also emphasizes effective adaptation, adjustment, and acceptance.
Studies with aging adults confirm that a number of internal and external protective factors – many that have been mentioned before like self-esteem, purpose, hope, humor and self-acceptance - are associated with the emergence of resilience in the face of challenges. Other studies link resilience in older age also to the availability of social networks, social support and integration and social connectedness within the community.
Additional studies include better health and well-being as being associated with greater resilience and agree that higher levels of social and communal interaction and increased levels of spirituality improve resilience. Interventions such as reminiscence, life review, wisdom enhancements, and mindfulness-based approaches may facilitate resilience in late life.
Sense of purpose is mentioned often in literature in relation to resilience and older adults. Researchers agree that you can have a sense of purpose even if you can’t say or identify exactly what your purpose is. They say that we all have things that we care about, and we all have special talents that we can apply to make a meaningful difference in the world around us. We can have multiple purposes that rise and fall in importance over our lifetime, as schedules are juggled and priorities shift. When we face transitions, whether it’s changing careers, going through divorce or illness, or hitting a milestone birthday, we may be prompted to slow down, reflect, and reprioritize. In other words, purpose is a constant practice. People draw on the skills, knowledge, and values they’ve cultivated over a lifetime to start a new chapter. Hopefully we can keep this in mind as we come out on the other side of the current pandemic.
Aldwin, C. M., Igarashi, H., Gilmer, D. F., & Levenson, M. R. (2017). Health, illness, and optimal aging: Biological and psychosocial perspectives. Springer Publishing Company
American Psychological Association. (2012). Building Your Resilience.
Centre for Policy on Ageing. (2014). Resilience in older age.
Newman, K. (2020). How Purpose Changes Across the Lifetime. Greater Good Magazine.
Windle, G. (2011). What is resilience? A review and concept analysis. Review in Clinical Gerontology, 21, 152–169.
Windsor, T. D., Hunter, M. L, & Browne-Yung, K. (2015). Ageing well: Building resilience in individuals and communities.