Resilience and the ‘Age’ Advantage

Resilience and the ‘Age’ Advantage

Two of my neighbors have lost their spouses or partners within the past five years. At least three members in my community have battled cancer, and one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Several of us in my community have experienced age-related injuries. In spite of these challenges and losses, I live in a very upbeat neighborhood. For the most part, people in my community “keep on keeping on.” One of my widowed neighbors, a man in his eighties, remarried recently and is still enjoying his life to the fullest. Another neighbor fought breast cancer for a year but continued to work in her garden and stay engaged in life no matter how poorly she felt during treatment. She is now cancer-free.  Another neighbor is caring for his wife who is losing her memory; he is focusing on how to enjoy whatever time he has with his beloved. We all have a lifetime of experience facing significant challenges and losses. We also know that such experiences are a part of life. We know that we will move through whatever trials life brings and we will see the other side. As older adults, we generally have the capacity to develop higher resilience than do younger people. Our life experiences can help us learn to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. “High resilience has been significantly associated with positive outcomes, including successful aging, lower depression, and longevity.” According to the Mayo Clinic, having resilience allows us to tap into the strength that helps us bounce back from a major challenge, trauma, loss, or death. Psychologists have defined resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, or significant stress. Interestingly, these “difficult experiences can also involve profound personal growth.

The Relationship Between Resilience, Attitude, Behaviors, and Purpose

Research suggests that individuals who have developed a high degree of resilience tend to have “adaptive coping styles, optimism, hopefulness, positive emotions, social support and community involvement, as well as activities of daily living independence…”  A government study reports that having a purpose may also be associated with resilience. Having a sense of purpose could help us find meaning from our experiences—especially when faced with losses or challenges. “Having a purpose in life may motivate reframing stressful situations to deal with them more productively, thereby facilitating recovery from stress and trauma.”

What Each of Us Can Do to Support Resiliency

If you do a literature search, you’ll find dozens of suggestions for ways you can foster resiliency. Here are just a few examples: The Mayo Clinic suggests cultivating strong connections with family, friends, and others who can support you when things are going well, and when you are facing a challenge. In addition, “do something that gives you a sense of accomplishment and purpose every day.”  Also, “think of how you’ve coped with hardships in the past. Consider the skills and strategies that helped you through difficult times.” The American Psychological Association encourages us to take good care of ourselves such as getting regular exercise, eating right, getting enough sleep, and taking in enough water to stay hydrated. The APA mentions helping others as another way to build resilience because it helps give us a sense of purpose as well as meaningful connections. The Aging Lifecare Journal Organization mentions cognitive reframing as a way to marshal more resilience during difficult times. Cognitive reframing involves interpreting experiences in more positive ways. For example, many of us choose to look at whatever comes our way as “learning opportunities.” Because we tend to become more resilient as we age, we also have knowledge of how to navigate life’s challenges that could benefit younger people. Becoming resilient is one of our powers as elders.  

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