Measuring Physical Resilience

Resilience is the ability to adaptively respond to challenges and adverse events. There are many types of resilience—emotional resilience, for example, is one form of resilience important for managing stress—and many measures of resilience used by researchers to understand how individuals can actively respond to adversity. A form of resilience that is particularly relevant to the study of aging is physical resilience, our ability to maintain or improve function in response to illness, accidents, or age-related changes.

A recent study tested the reliability and validity of the Physical Resilience Scale, a scale developed to help understand successful physical aging. The researchers administered the scale to a group of 130 older adults, along with four other related but distinct resilience scales, and a physical activity survey. This is a way of assessing what is known as validity, or the usefulness of a test for assessing some meaningful measure.

The researchers hypothesized that the test would correlate somewhat with the other resilience measures, but would also vary from them somewhat (since they were not measuring the same aspect of resilience). In addition, they hypothesized the test would be associated with physical activity.

To assess the reliability of the test, the measure was given two weeks later. This is known as “test-retest reliability,” and is a way of estimating to what extent individuals respond consistently to the test. In this sample of participants, the Physical Resilience Scale had the strongest test-retest reliability of all the resilience measures used. The researchers found that the Physical Resilience Scale correlated with two other common measures of resilience at both time periods, the 14-Item Resilience Scale and the Hardy-Gill Resilience Scale. Neither of these, however, specifically focuses on physical resilience.

The Physical Resilience Scale was also associated with the amount of time that study participants reported spending on physical activity. These findings suggest that the Physical Resilience Scale has some validity as a measure of physical resilience. The authors make some suggestions about revisions that could be made for the test. One of the items appeared confusing to some of the participants, making it not useful as a test item.

There was also a “ceiling effect,” which means that it was hard to differentiate between individuals who appear high in physical resilience. They suggested adding additional items, especially with older adults who are less than 85 years of age or who are highly physically active. Research on measures of physical resilience is an important step in assessing interventions to improve physical well-being.


Resnick B, Galik E, Dorsey S, et al. (2011). Reliability and Validity Testing of the Physical Resilience Measure. The Gerontologist 51(5):643-652.

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