Florida State University

College of Social Sciences & Public Policy

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Aging experts study resilience as a measure of health outcomes

Miles Taylor, Dawn Carr

Professor Miles Taylor and Associate Professor Dawn Carr (Sociology, Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy) have published a study in the Journals of Gerontology that seeks to establish resilience as a resource with powerful and lasting effects on health outcomes, particularly in later life.

Their paper, “Psychological Resilience and Health Among Older Adults: A Comparison of Personal Resources,” suggests that psychological resilience, a relatively new measure in the literature of health and aging, is powerfully associated with health in later life. Further, according to Taylor and Carr, it is actually a stronger predictor of health and wellbeing than other well-established resource measures, such as mastery, optimism and hopelessness. 

“Resilience has potential as a mechanism that could improve health and wellbeing and – importantly – one that is potentially modifiable through interventions,” Taylor said. “But before we can sell this as a powerful and robust mechanism, we first have to show that it has strong and lasting associations with health. By comparing it to other resources, we are arguing that it should take its place among important psychological resources known to shape health and wellbeing in later life.”

A substantial body of research already exists on resilience in childhood and early adulthood, but very few studies have examined psychological resilience specifically in later life. Older adulthood can have challenges and setbacks that are not as common in younger adulthood, among them health setbacks and loss of spouses and loved ones. 

“Having the capacity to positively adapt in the face of these challenges is tremendously important during later life,” Taylor said.

The study also has particular relevance during the global health crisis brought about by the COVID-19 virus.

The pandemic has brought on many types of stressors and challenges, from the infection itself to job loss and financial hardship, isolation and the loss of family and friends. Understanding the role of psychological resilience in protecting the health of older adults, who are disproportionately at risk during this time, is paramount to understanding the potential long-term consequences of the pandemic for those in later life, the researchers say.

Joining forces in this area was a natural fit for the two FSU scholars, given their earlier work. Carr has created a research agenda surrounding what it means to be resilient and when this resource is important for older adults. Taylor has been studying the long-term impacts of military exposures for older veteran men. 

“I must admit that I was skeptical at first, but after seeing resilience perform time and again in protective ways, I wanted to write an overarching paper on the strength of this one single measure in relation to health and wellbeing,” Taylor said.

Taylor will discuss the implications of the research in her presentation at the College of Social Science and Public Policy’s free virtual public forum, Policy Pub, on January 19 at 5:30 p.m. For more information and access to this event, go to this link.