Upstate News

November 3, 2009
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

Mental health is key predictor of the resilience in seniors from rural areas, study finds

SYRACUSE, N.Y.— The resilience of older adults living in rural communities is most likely associated with their mental health and to a lesser extent their friendships and physical health, according to a new study by Upstate Medical University published in the Fall 2009 issue of Journal of Rural Health.

Resilience refers to one’s ability to recover quickly from stresses or other negative events and gain something from those experiences.

“High resilience levels in older adults may be a strong factor in how this population adjusts to the hardships of aging,” said the study’s author, Margaret Wells, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Upstate’s College of Nursing. “For older adults in rural communities, resilience is an especially important trait since they often face unique challenges such as limited access to healthcare resources.”

The study surveyed 106 adults aged 65 and over from rural areas of New York about their resilience (equanimity, self-reliance, e.g.), health status (both physical and mental) and social networks (friends and families).

One’s perceived mental health status had the strongest association with resilience, the study found. Possessing a network of friends, but not family, also was shown to be an indicator of greater resilience.

“Young adults leave their families when they move from rural to metropolitan areas, so it’s important for older adults to have a social network of close friends and neighbors, especially when help is needed,” Wells said. “Those that rated high on resilience had these social networks.”

Wells said primary care providers in rural areas may want to screen their older adult patients for resilience levels and provide treatment to enhance those levels.

For example, Wells noted that individuals with untreated depression may have lower resilience levels, which could lead to more difficulty in adjusting to adversity. “Proper treatment of mental health disorders may help build resilience levels; however, further research is needed to determine this.” Wells said.

“If we develop effective treatment strategies to bolster an individual’s resilience, we may help more rural older adults maintain independence in their communities,” she said.

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