Community, human connections helped older adults find resilience during the pandemic

CORVALLIS, Ore. — The past year has been hard on everyone. Now, a new study finds older adults in particular were hit hard by stress and isolation during the first round of lockdowns in Spring 2020. However, researchers from Oregon State University also say that many older adults found resilience through their local communities, new hobbies, and learning to enjoy some time to themselves.

Resilience is often defined as the ability to find a silver lining in a tough situation. Study authors say according to that definition, many of this project’s participants showed some serious resilience last year.

“A lot of times we think about resilience as a personality trait, and it’s true that there are some qualities that may help people experience that. But in the end, resilience is something that is shared,” says Heidi Igarashi, first author on the study and a recent doctoral graduate of OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences, in a university release. “One of the things that came out in our study was the degree to which the people-connection was really significant.”

Researchers surveyed 235 adults between the ages of 51 and 95 regarding their experiences between April 28 and May 4, 2020. By then, the state of Oregon’s first stay-at-home order had been in place for about a month.

Respondents shared all the ways that the pandemic had impacted them on a personal, interpersonal, and societal level. Examples include constantly worrying about staying safe, fear of the future, social isolation, lack of physical contact, and fear for their loved ones’ health.

Finding purpose in life can lead to greater resilience

Not surprisingly, 94 percent report having a difficult time during the pandemic. However, 63 percent also shared some positive experiences. Such experiences included trying new things (gardening, cooking), and more gratitude for the simpler, slower pace of life. Others found joy in reconnecting with old friends, making new ones, and in caring for others. Some said they liked how the pandemic had led to fewer cars on the road and an increased sense of community solidarity.

“It’s a mistake to think of older adults as just being sort of victims during COVID,” says co-author Carolyn Aldwin, the Jo Anne Leonard Endowed Director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research at OSU. “They’re a lot more resilient than we think they are, and they’re important for the community.”

Notably, retired adults reported having a tougher time than working participants. This was due to lockdowns impeding the daily lives of retired adults more frequently. However, other retirees told researchers they felt they had more time for themselves lately.

In summation, study authors say it doesn’t matter what your age is; if you want to be resilient find a purpose in life. Once you’ve achieved that, often times through helping or caring for others, resilience is much easier to find.

“There’s this meaning that’s found in caregiving, a reason for living, where our study group often didn’t have these demands on them, and they were feeling a lack of sense of meaning,” Aldwin concludes. “If you’re the person who’s holding the family together during this crisis, that’s a source of meaning. Clearly we would have seen more loss and more difficulty, but we also might have seen sources of resilience that we didn’t see in the study group.”

The study appears in the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences.

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John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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