For the past century medicine has mostly relied on the biomedical model to deal with diseases and develop ways to prevent or manage them. Recent advances in genetics have added to the notion that molecular changes are the key focus of disease. Research has shown that the biomedical model that focuses mainly on disease falls short of comprehensively understanding aging. A more comprehensive approach that includes not only physical aspects of aging, but also mental and social aspects has been shown to better capture the essence of the aging process.
In recent years, the term resilience has gained attention in the field of aging. Resilience is broadly defined as the ability to bounce back from adversity. All older adults experience adverse events, however, only a portion of older adults have disability, require special assistance or must change their lifestyle significantly after an adverse event. Unfortunately most aging research to date focuses on these negative aspects of aging. Fewer studies have analyzed the positive aspects of aging, including the ability that many older adults have of recovering from adverse events and leading independent, healthy and productive lives.
The MacArthur Studies on Successful Aging where among the first studies to show that absence of disease and disability, good cognitive function and social engagement were key elements associated with aging well. More recently, studies have shown that additional factors such as a positive outlook on life, good social support and healthier lifestyles help older adults recover from adverse events. We are just now understanding that a positive approach to aging where things like recovery, a meaningful aging experience and spirituality, among many others, are as important or maybe more important than traditional outcome measures used in aging research like disability and mortality.
As the population continues to grow older we should consider whether our approach to aging has a positive or negative tone. The more we change our mindset and perceive aging as a another stage in our lives that can be as rewarding, exciting and interesting as any of the other stages, the easier and better our aging process will be and the better we will be able to care for the older adults in our lives. More research is needed to define and operationalize resilience, however, keeping in mind that all adults have the ability to recover can certainly make a difference in how we approach aging.
(Bowling & Dieppe, 2005; Bowling, 2007; Engel, 1980; Rowe & Kahn, 1987; Rowe & Kahn, 1998; Rowe & Kahn, 1999b; Rowe & Kahn, 1999a; Windle, Markland, & Woods, 2008; Windle, 2011)
- Bowling, A. (2007). Aspirations for older age in the 21st century: what is successful aging? International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 64, 263-297.
- Bowling, A. & Dieppe, P. (2005). What is successful aging and who should define it? BMJ, 331, 1548-1551.
- Engel, G. L. (1980). The clinical application of the biopsychosocial model. American Journal of Psychiatry, 137, 535-544
- Rowe, J. W. & Kahn, R. L. (1987). Human Aging – Usual and Successful. Science, 237, 143-149
- Rowe, J. W. & Kahn, R. L. (1998). Successful aging. Aging Clinical and Experimental Research, 10, 142-144
- Rowe, J. W. & Kahn, R. L. (1999a). Successful Aging. New York: Dell Publishing
- Rowe, J. W. & Kahn, R. L. (1999b). The future of aging. Contemp. Longterm Care, 22, 36-4
- Windle, G. (2011). What is Resilience? A review and concept analysis. Reviews in Clinical Gerontology, 21, 152-169.
- Windle, G., Markland, D. A., & Woods, R. T. (2008). Examination of a theoretical model of psychological resilience in older age. Aging Ment. Health, 12, 285-292.