Our study indicated that the level of resilience as measured by the CD-RISC was similar to that seen in younger adults. In Connor and Davidson (2003)
, the mean score among middle-aged persons (mean age 42) was 80.4 (sd=12.8) in a general population sample, and 71.8 (sd=18.4) in a smaller primary care patient sample. The results in our sample were intermediate between those two groups in terms of the CD-RISC scores (75.3, sd=13.1), although these differences are relatively small and likely to be clinically non-significant, especially given the standard deviations. The internal consistency of the CD-RISC was also similar to that found in the developmental study sample (0.92 in our sample, and 0.89 in Connor-Davidson’s study). Therefore, the instrument appeared to have basic psychometric characteristics in older persons that were comparable to those in younger adults.
However, when the factor structure of the CD-RISC was assessed, the dimensionality of the instrument was somewhat different from that reported by Connor and Davidson (2003)
. Differences in results of exploratory factor analysis could arise from multiple elements (e.g., sample characteristics), so it is not possible to definitively conclude that factor structure of this instrument differs as a result of chronological age. In the investigation by Connor and Davidson (2003)
, the most consistent factor corresponded to a different set of items assessing “personal competence, high standards, and tenacity” (8 items). In college age participants, CD-RISC scores were positively associated with task-focused coping strategies, and negatively related to emotion-focused coping (Campbell-Sills et al., 2006
). The first factor to emerge in our factor analysis conformed to previous findings; however, the second factor in older women appeared to correspond to tolerance for negative affect and adaptability, which differed from previous study. Therefore, it may be that resilience in older adults reflects a somewhat different process, perhaps one that involves contributions from acceptance and toleration of negative affect versus problem- or task-focused active coping (e.g., tenacity) (Patterson et al., 1990
). Two possible reasons for this difference could be a difference in the nature of life events encountered by older adults, who tend to face more chronic and uncontrollable challenges (e.g., health problems, bereavement) than do younger adults (Karel, 1997
). Alternatively, developmental changes in older age may affect the way in which resilience manifests (e.g., wisdom, (Baltes, Smith, & Staudinger, 1991
) or it may be that resilience is a characteristic that is associated with survival to older ages. In any case, our results suggest a need for research on intra-individual change in resilience over the lifespan.
In our investigation, resilience correlated with a number of psychological components of successful aging. Recent longitudinal research has shown that older individuals who endorse greater levels of optimism (Giltay, Geleijnse, Zitman, Hoekstra, & Schouten, 2004
) and more positive attitudes toward aging (Levy, Slade, & Kasl, 2002
) may live longer and healthier lives (Vaillant & Mukamal, 2001
). Resilience in our study was strongly related to optimism, as well as to emotional well-being. It is possible, but untested, that long-term health benefits are associated with resilience as with other positive psychological constructs. With regard to the relationship between resilience and cognition, we found that self-rated problems in cognitive functioning correlated strongly and negatively with resilience. However, resilience was not significantly correlated with the score on the cognitive screening test we administered at a 0.01 level; it should be noted, however, that this measure was designed as a screening tool to detect clinically significant cognitive impairment (Swearer et al., 2002
). Given the strong relationship between self-rated cognitive functioning and resilience, more sensitive neuropsychological tests may be necessary to evaluate the relationship between more subtle deficits in cognitive functioning and resilience. Finally, resilience was related to physical function, but to a lesser extent than the psychological variables listed above, suggesting that resilience is not simply a trait of the healthiest older adults.
These findings must be interpreted with caution given the limitations of our study. All our subjects were women, and a majority of the sample was Caucasian and the median level of educational attainment was some college. Further work will be needed to examine the validity of the CD-RISC in people from different gender, ethnic, educational, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Furthermore, the study was cross-sectional, and thus, conclusions about the effect of aging on resilience, such as by comparison with the relatively younger development sample (Connor and Davidson, 2003
), are likely to be confounded by cohort effects and/or differences in sample collection. In addition, resilience, in our study, was measured by self-report, which may be biased by social desirability (Ahern, 2006
). Moreover, resilience in a broader sense has been measured by neurobiological and immunological markers of compensation or accommodation to stress (Charney et al., 2004
). As such, future work with resilience will benefit from integrating self-report with other methods, particularly those that examine biological indicators of resilience (Glatt, Chayavichitsilp, Depp, Schork, & Jeste, 2007
). Finally, resilience is a construct that is controversial, including whether it is a personality trait or a response to a particular stressor. Our sample indicates shared variance with other positive psychological constructs, particularly optimism. Therefore, the extent to which resilience represents a unique construct among positive attitudes or coping mechanisms in older people deserves further study.
In conclusion, resilience appears to be a relevant psychological construct in older people, and one that may relate to successful aging. The CD-RISC appears to have adequate psychometric properties in older people, although aging may relate to alterations in the underlying factor structure of this instrument, perhaps favoring more acceptance-based (versus problem- or task-focused) coping. Longitudinal research will be needed to determine whether aging changes the nature of resilience, and whether long-term health benefits are associated with it as with other positive psychological constructs.