What makes an elderly patient 'resilient'?

The trait often stems from overcoming adversity

People who are more resilient by nature are less likely to let a chronic illness disrupt their daily lives, according to a new study in the Gerontologist.

The study looked at nearly 11,000 U.S. residents participating in the national Health and Retirement Study with an average age of about 69. Researchers developed a 12-point "resilience scale" based on whether he or she disagreed with statements 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."

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The researchers found that the higher people scored on the "resilience scale," the less likely they were to be discouraged by a chronic condition. During the study, 11% of participants developed a new chronic condition, such as heart or lung disease, stroke, mental health issues, or cancer. Individuals who were more resilient were relatively unscathed by the new illness.

Dawn Carr, study co-author and a gerontologist at the Stanford Center on Longevity, says, "You throw something at them, something bad—a new chronic condition is really hard—and we see bounce-back pretty rapidly."

Meanwhile, the least resilient individuals in the study had an average of nearly three times the amount of activities of daily living disabilities compared to their more resilient counterparts.

According to the New York Times, age, health, and financial status alone cannot fully explain the disparities of why some individuals are more resilient than others. Study author Lydia Manning, a gerontologist at Concordia University Chicago, says that resilience is usually acquired during "moments of adversity," noting also that "everybody has the capacity for resilience."

 Manning says she sees the potential for "resilience interventions" in the future and the capacity to develop strategies to help people "bolster their resilience" (Span, "New Old Age Blog," New York Times, 9/12).

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