Perhaps we can apply the adage “to live well is to change often” to “to age well is to become more resilient”. Resilience, defined as the ability to adapt to changing situations and demands, is a skill that a person is never too young to learn or too old to practice. Resilience can serve us well as we dodge and weave our way through life with its various challenges and setbacks. And according to experts on aging, the resiliency with which we navigate life’s curveballs determines how well we age and how satisfied we can be later in life. 

Gerontologist Lydia Manning, PhD, explains that the concept of personal resilience in aging adults emerged from what gerontologists call the “paradox of old age” which suggests that while older adults experience more loss as compared to younger adults, they also experience the highest levels of life satisfaction and overall well-being. One’s resilience is fundamental to achieving this contentment.

Dr. Alex Zatura and his colleagues in the Resilience Solutions Group at Arizona State University claim that older adults who successfully adapt and recover from adversity engage in what they call “resilience thinking.” This type of thinking allows older adults to reframe life’s challenges, turning hardship into opportunity. Certain practices can cultivate resilience thinking:

Maintaining a positive perspective and self-worth. This goes beyond putting a happy face on everything. Rather, the ability to keep an internal focus of control while displaying a sense of security in oneself creates a framework of autonomy from which resiliency can spring. You have more control than you think. And you probably have weathered tougher situations in the past.

Accepting that life is complex, yet filled with opportunity. Challenges give us the opportunity to apply problem-solving skills, devising alternate and perhaps even better solutions. Can you work with the change instead of fighting it? How can it work to your advantage?

Staying connected to others and engaged in social activities and relationships. According to the American Psychological Association, one primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family. Relationships that create love and trust, offer positive role models, and offer encouragement and reassurance can help bolster a person’s resilience.

Setting goals and having a sense of purpose. Creating a clear vision of what you want to achieve helps you stay focused and in action rather than feeling sorry for yourself and your tough circumstances.

Maintaining a healthy diet and active lifestyle. The healthier and more active older adults are, the more traits of resilience they possess. And in turn, resilience is an important key to maintaining good physical and mental health. Older adults who lack resiliency may be at higher risk for suicide and chronic conditions, including depression.

Resilient older adults are able to glean positive results from negative events and turn a problem into an opportunity for growth, expansion and personal transformation. Without resilience, there is no courage, no insight and no wisdom. It becomes the bedrock on which all else is built.

Dr. Manning states “In my own work as a gerontologist, I find that enduring adversity is largely influenced by one’s self-perceived emotional strength. Older adults share their own strategies for handling adversity with me, and talk openly about how they see adversity as an opportunity for growth and expansion. Participants in my research have revealed how they intentionally map their life resources, mine for social support and tap into the benefits of human connection.”

So start along your path toward healthy resilience practices by volunteering or joining social groups and activities. Community Thread can give you some options; give us a call at 651-439-7434 or visit our website at www.CommunityThreadMN.org.

By Sally Anderson