Understanding adversity and resilience at older ages


Address for correspondence: Zoe Hildon, CORE Clinical Health Psychology, University College London, 1-19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HB e-mail: z.hildon@ucl.ac.uk


This mixed-methods study looks at the relationship between adversity and resilience. It examines the dynamics of protection in a sub-sample of the Boyd Orr cohort that are aged between 70 and 80 years of age (n = 139). We used a questionnaire and activity diaries to gather a range of quantitative data, and interviews using lifegrids to explore past and present experiences of adversity. Sampling of 32 individuals was based on resilient and vulnerable outcomes (16 cases respectively), measured quantitatively as good or poor quality of life (CASP-19) in the presence of one or more adversities such as ill health or stress. The analysis explored adversity and protection in relationships, retirement, and health. Participants with resilient outcomes drew upon social and individual resources in the face of adversity, in particular resources that stabilised life change by providing continuity. These included: constructing narratives that reinterpreted past adversity in light of recent ones; maintaining social roles and activities that had previously brought pleasure or a sense of mastery; relying on tried and tested coping strategies; support from close ongoing relationships. Participants with vulnerable outcomes, however, described more severe adversities, suggesting that resilience is also dependent on the degree and impact of this experience.