What does being resilient have to do with successful aging?

November 02, 2005

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Why do some people age healthily and happily, and others do not? This is a question researchers at Arizona State University will explore in a new five-year project funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA).

ASU's nationally renowned Resilience Solutions Group was awarded the $2.2 million grant to examine how factors of risk and resilience contribute to health and well-being.

According to the NIA the project "is highly significant work that will provide answers to questions concerning variations in health...This work cuts to the heart of the debate over resilience that has occupied researchers for decades."

In broad terms, resiliency can be described as the capacity of individuals and communities to bounce back from adversity and even thrive in a world of turmoil and change.

Alex Zautra, Foundation Professor of Clinical Psychology, and John Hall, professor of public affairs, direct the ASU interdisciplinary research team.

The multi-million dollar project will involve 800 "baby boomers" between the ages of 45 and 65 in 40 different ethnically diverse neighborhoods across Maricopa County in Arizona.

There are about 76 million baby boomers in the United States, according the U.S. Census Bureau, so what the ASU group learns can have profound national impact on many areas of society, most notably health care and related services.

"We're interested in how people stay healthy as they approach the age where the paths of health and illness normally diverge," Zautra says. "We want to know what characterizes this difference, both in body and mind." The resilience project aims to identify what are termed "biopsychosocial" factors that sustain well-being and protect against disability by enhancing an individuals capacity to recover following stress.

Biopsychosocial factors include genetic variables that influence how some people's bodies react to stress, and psychological factors such as positive mental health, anxiety or depression.

In addition, the group will look at social aspects that cause stress, such as a loss of life, divorce and economic status, as well as positive influences like the strength of friend and family attachments.

Lastly, they'll explore aspects of the neighborhood and communities in which people live. They'll look at such factors as age composition, length of residence, home ownership and financial status, as well as the prevalence of such community programs and infrastructure as parks, recreation services, community centers, and churches.

They also hope to fill important gaps in knowledge and understanding for health and well-being among people of Hispanic heritage, as well as European heritage.

"We'll use a variety of methods to capture resilience, ranging from surveys that explore individual perceptions and experiences related to resilience, to physiological responses in the laboratory, to daily experiences within one's social world in diary assessments, to GIS (geographic information systems) data characterizing communities," Hall says. "What we learn will help us best think about the future in ways that maximize wellness and health."

In addition to contributing new information to what scientists know about resilience and its connection to successful aging, the ASU group will develop workshops and forums to bring successful aging strategies to the community.

The project will begin enrolling participants in spring 2006.
For more information about this and related research of the Resilience Solutions Group, go to www.asu.edu/resilience.

Arizona State University

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