Resilience has been defined as the ability to adapt and thrive in the face of adversity, acute stress, or trauma.1 Originally conceived as an inborn trait characteristic, resilience is now conceptualized as a dynamic, multidimensional capacity influenced by the interactions between internal factors (eg, personality, cognitive capacity, physical health) and environmental resources (eg, social status, financial stability).2,3 Resilience in older adults (typically defined as age ≥65) can improve the prognosis and outcomes for physical and mental conditions.4 The construct is closely aligned with “successful aging” and can be fostered in older adults, leading to improved physical and mental health and well-being.5
While initially resilience was conceptualized as the opposite of depressive states, recent research has identified resilience in the context of major depressive disorder (MDD) as the net effects of various psychosocial and biological variables that decrease the risk of onset, relapse, or depressive illness severity and increase the probability or speed of recovery.6 Late-life depression (LLD) in adults age >65 is a common and debilitating disease, often leading to decreased psychological well-being, increased cognitive decline, and excess mortality.7,8 LLD is associated with several factors, such as cerebrovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease, and inflammation, all of which could contribute to brain vulnerability and an increased risk of depression.9 Physical and cognitive engagement, physical activity, and high brain reserve have been shown to confer resilience to affective and cognitive changes in older adults, despite brain vulnerability.9
The greatest levels of resilience have been observed in individuals in their fifth decade of life and later,4,10 with high levels of resilience significantly contributing to longevity5; however, little is known about which factors contribute to heterogeneity in resilience characteristics and outcomes.4 Furthermore, the concept of resilience continues to raise numerous questions, including:
- how resilience should be measured or defined
- what factors promote or deter the development of resilience
- the effects of resilience on various health and psychological outcomes
- which interventions are effective in enhancing resilience in older adults.4
In this article, we describe resilience in older adults with LLD, its clinical and neurocognitive correlates, and underlying neurobiological and immunological biomarkers. We also examine resilience-building interventions, such as mind-body therapies (MBTs), that have been shown to enhance resilience by promoting positive perceptions of difficult experiences and challenges.
Clinical and neurocognitive correlates of resilience
Resilience varies substantially among older adults with LLD as well as across the lifespan of an individual.11 Identifying clinical components and predictors of resilience may usefully inform the development and testing of interventions to prevent and treat LLD.11 One tool widely used to measure resilience—the self-report Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC)12— has been found to have clinically relevant characteristics.1,11 Using data from 337 older adults with LLD, Laird et al11 performed an exploratory factor analysis of the CD-RISC and found a 4-factor model:
- adaptive coping self-efficacy
- accommodative coping self-efficacy
Having a strong sense of purpose and not being easily discouraged by failure were items characteristic of grit.1,11 The preference to take the lead in problem-solving was typical of items loading on adaptive coping self-efficacy, while accommodative coping self-efficacy measured flexibility, cognitive reframing, a sense of humor, and acceptance in the face of uncontrollable stress.1,11 Finally, the belief that “things happen for a reason” and that “sometimes fate or God can help me” are characteristics of spirituality. 1,11 Using a multivariate model, the greatest variance in total resilience scores was explained by less depression, less apathy, higher quality of life, non-White race, and, somewhat counterintuitively, greater medical comorbidity.1,11 Thus, interventions designed to help older adults cultivate grit, active coping, accommodative coping, and spirituality may enhance resilience in LLD.1,11
Resilience may also be positively associated with cognitive functioning and could be neuroprotective in LLD.13 Laird et al13 investigated associations between baseline resilience and several domains of neurocognitive functioning in 288 older adults with LLD. Several positive associations were found between measured language performance and total resilience, active coping, and accommodative coping.13 Additionally, total resilience and accommodative coping were significantly associated with a lower self-reported frequency of forgetfulness, a subjective measure of memory used in this study.13 Together, these results suggest that interventions targeting language might be useful to improve coping in LLD.13 Another interesting finding was that the resilience subdomain of spirituality was negatively associated with memory, language, and executive functioning performance.13 A distinction must be made between religious attendance (eg, regular attendance at religious institutions) vs religious beliefs, which may account for the previously reported associations between spirituality and improved cognition.13
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