America is growing old fast. Approximately 10% of our country is currently 60 years or older and by 2050 nearly a fourth of our citizens will be elderly (Kaplan et al., 2008). This presents a specific category of Americans with unique challenges. In a comprehensive review of research from 1978 through 2005, it was determined that only one third of the elderly are considered to be successful agers (Kaplan et al., 2008). This means two thirds of our elderly are struggling with the aging process. Society is obligated to address the needs associated with this struggling group that will assist them in living healthy well-adjusted lives. It is in everyone’s best interest to facilitate their independence and allow them to continue to contribute to society in a productive way rather than become a burden that requires limited resources to manage. Understanding risk factors and protective mechanisms used by elderly individuals that have achieved successful aging can help design preventative practices that will enable similar beneficial outcomes.
It is well established that genetics play a part in longevity. However, only about one third of living an extended life can be attributed to heredity and the rest is up to the individual (Parker-Pope, 2005). Obviously, eating right, proper exercise, and avoiding unhealthy habits like tobacco and excessive alcohol use have a role in physical health. It is commonly accepted that a healthy lifestyle will enable the body to sustain itself and increase the length of an individual’s life. Although these are important aspects of extending life, by themselves they do not explain why some people maintain full function of their faculties and report a high level of satisfaction in their lives while others seem to give up and merely mark time and wait for the end to come.
While these modified lifestyles are related to longevity, socioeconomic status has just as much influence and cannot be ignored. Different research has independently identified particular qualities that appear to have a distinguishable impact on the ability to age gracefully Resiliency in the Elderly 3
and well-adjusted. Much of the research has common threads that interlink these qualities and create a basic pattern of successful strategies for producing resilient older citizens. I have explored eight different authors research and will illustrate how all sources reaffirm the fundamental qualities of stress management, strong social contacts, self efficacy, and sense of control as key factors for resiliency in the elderly.
The first article I examined was entitled The Secrets of Successful Aging: What Science Tells Us, by Tara Parker-Pope. In this secondary research, she states managing stress at any age is important but especially so for the elderly (2005). She points out that stress accelerates the aging process and as we get older it takes longer to shut down this stress response causing even more negative effects on our bodies. Furthermore, she comments handling stress appropriately decreases a person’s allostatic load which is a means of measuring the negative effects of stress has on the body and its organs (Parker-Pope, 2005). Quoted in Parker-Pope’s article, Bruce McEwen, a neuroendrocrinologist and expert on allostatic load has concluded that lower levels of stress or proper coping skills for stress allows a person to feel more in control of their own life (2005).
A sense of control in one’s life is a key issue to successful aging. It is linked to self efficacy and self esteem. If you feel you are in control then you are more confident and self assured. Parker-Pope comments successful agers feel more in control of their surroundings and daily lives. She offers Dr. Sapolsky’s nursing-home study to validate this observation. In this study one group of residents were given more responsibility for meals, social activities, and other aspects of their lives while another group was closely...