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Successful Aging: These are traits that help older adults in times of crisis

Dear readers.

Given the COVID-19 environment, it seems timely to identify the strengths older adults can rely upon to help cope with this unprecedented time. The literature provides a variety of age-related traits that can work in our favor. Check if some of these apply to you or your loved ones.

Resilience. Older adults have the capacity for resilience. By resilience, we mean recovering from difficult experiences, the ability to bounce back. In general, older adults adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or sources of stress. An article in the journal Geriatric Nursing cited research suggesting that older adults are capable of being resilient despite their socioeconomic background, personal experiences and declining health. Other research suggests that resilience is related to physical fitness, social support, engaged lifestyles and even genetic factors.

Resilient adults share some common characteristics: They can think about new ways to solve problems and have a sense of control; they see themselves as a survivor, not as victims; and they are able to ask for help. A study by The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence® and the MIT AgeLab found that adults in their 60s reported higher levels of resilience compared with those in their 40s and 50s.

Happiness. Older adults are happiest at the beginning of their lives and toward the end of their lives, according to Jonathan Rauch’s U-curve of happiness. Academics found increasing evidence that life satisfaction falls in our 20s and 30s, dips in our 40s and then increases until our 80s. The U-curve is more prevalent in wealthier countries where people live longer healthier lives. Note the curve is not without criticism. Some argue that happy folks in later life actually were happy during their younger years.

Managing emotions. Research supports the premise that as we age, we become more adept in managing our emotional reaction to stress using our vast life experiences, particularly in response to negative situations. Additionally, when compared to younger people, older adults tend to have better recall for positive as opposed to negative information. We tend to remember the good stuff.

Religion. Studies indicate that engagement with a religion may provide psychological benefits such as having a positive and hopeful attitude about life and illness. These attitudes are considered predictors of improved health and lower mortality rates. We know that such attitudes increase one’s ability to cope with illness and disability. For older people, the religious community is the largest source of social support outside of the family.

Wisdom. With age comes wisdom. It is the ability to exercise good judgment on important, but uncertain matters, a definition used by President Jimmy Carter. The later Dr. Gene Cohen his book “The Creative Age” defined wisdom as a product of “age, smarts, emotional and practical life experience.” The association between wisdom and age has a basis in biology writes author and American cultural historian, Lawrence R. Samuel in a Psychology Today article. Older adults have the benefit of using both sides of their brain to solve a particular problem; the left side focusing on logic; the right side on intuition and feelings. Young people typically use just one side of the brain, the right side as the left side continues to develop. Note wisdom can be hard to define. According to Socrates, “the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

The combination of these traits can help us remain strong, yet realistic, during this uncertain and upending time, helping us to cope as well as possible.

At the same time, good physical and mental-health practices remain in the forefront. As a review: Follow the CDC guidelines, check in with family and friends, learn a new skill such as Zoom and be patient and calm. Also, consider paying attention to the four R’s: Relationships, Routine, Relaxation and Recreation.

So dear readers, let’s be aware of what comes natural to us and use these assets in coping with our enormous challenges. Take good care and eat nutritious meals, stay connected, enjoy nature, love lots and be well.

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