How Can Resilience Impact Health?

How we handle adversity can have big effect on how adverse events affect us. In light of this, researchers have turned their attention to resilience, the ability to handle adversity in a manner that protects well-being. Recently a group of researchers looked into whether the impact of resilience extends to the impact of chronic disease on disability late in life.

Using data from a group of 10,753 Americans between the ages of 51 and 98, the researchers assessed the impact of resilience on changes in disability by examining how resilience might have influenced changes in activity of daily living (ADL) and instrumental activity of daily living (IADL) scores over a two-year period. To measure resilience in these individuals, the researchers looked at responses to questions that touched on five areas identified as components of resilience: perseverance, or the ability to keep going despite major setbacks; equanimity, the ability to adjust to change, often with humor; meaningfulness, or the realization that life has a purpose; self-reliance, or recognition of one’s own inner strengths; and the realization that some experiences must be faced alone. Health, depression, and socioeconomic status were all statistically controlled for in order to eliminate the effects that they may have had on data analysis.

The participants in this study had an average resilience score of 9.19 on a 12-point scale, which is encouraging, since it suggests a high level of resilience among many older adults. Turning to the impact of resilience, the researchers found that higher resilience scores were associated with a lower number of ADL limitations, suggesting to the researchers that “resilience protects against the increase in ADL limitations often associated with aging.”

The study’s analysis also suggests that “higher levels of resilience buffer the deleterious impact of a new chronic condition.” The lowest resilience scores predicted ADL limitations that were 2.68 times greater than those with low resilience scores who did not develop a new chronic condition (scores of 0.98 compared to 0.36). By contrast, those with the highest levels of resilience only had a 19 percent increase in ADL limitations, compared to participants with high amounts of resilience who did not experience a new chronic condition (scores of 0.29 compared to 0.24). This led the researchers to conclude that high levels of resilience mitigate a considerable amount of the negative consequences of a chronic condition on ADLs. When the researchers looked at IADLs, they found very similar patterns, although the absolute and relative differences were not as large.

The implications of this research suggest the importance of identifying ways that older adults can bolster their resilience, as well as the importance of developing interventions to aid in boosting resilience. Additionally, this research suggests the importance of attending to the level of resilience an older adult may have, since a lower level of resilience seems to signal a greater likelihood of needing additional assistance. Perhaps greater resources and attention could be directed to individuals with lower resilience in an effort to counteract the health impacts that low levels of resilience have been shown to have.


Manning LK, Carr DC, and Kail BL. Do higher levels of resilience buffer the deleterious impact of chronic illness on disability in later life? The Gerontologist. (gnu068 (2014). DOI: 10.1093/geront/gnu068


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