Resilience and the Elderly
Senior citizens today are a sturdy, reliable generation. They have proven time and again the ability to survive everything from the Great Depression to world wars and the threat of nuclear holocaust. They are survivors.
These survival qualities, known as resilience, refer to the ability to “bounce back” from life problems in a way that makes people stronger. Resilience in the elderly seems to involve some similar influences as it does in younger people, and also some important differences.
Resiliency conditions take place along three dimensions of our experience: I AM, I CAN, and I HAVE. This fact sheet will discuss each of these as it relates to disaster recovery in the elderly.
I AM refers to personal characteristics such as self-esteem, confidence, and recognition of personal strengths and assets. Unlike the young, elderly persons have a lifetime of experience in confronting and surviving the difficulties of life, and in their response to disaster they can remember and draw on this history of survival and character-building.
I CAN as an element of resiliency refers to recognition of not just self-esteem but self efficacy, which means the ability to DO and PERFORM survival- and recovery-related tasks. Although they may not possess the physical strength or stamina of younger people, elderly persons often have talents of wisdom and perseverance and perspective that they can bring to the disaster experience.
I HAVE refers to the supports around each of us that promote resilience. These supports are like the airbags in our cars that even when we crash can keep us from being wounded too seriously. For elderly persons these support systems might include access to service agencies, relationships with others, and participation in community resources.
In summary, elderly persons are perhaps uniquely suited, through a lifetime of confronting and working through struggles, to endure and recover from disasters. Some additional information on resilience if found elsewhere on this website.