Resilience Key to Feeling Good in Old Age

beach, romantic couple, older adults
(Image credit: Hanna Monika Cybulko | Dreamstime)

Despite worsening physical health and mental abilities, adults say they feel better about how they've aged as they get older, a new study finds.

Researchers surveyed about 1,000 adults ages 50 to 99 living in San Diego. Participants were interviewed over the phone to assess their physical and mental health. They were also asked to rate, on a scale of 1 to 10, how successfully they thought they had aged, with a rating of 10 being the most successful.

The average rating was 8.2, and older adults were more likely to rate their aging success more highly than those in middle age. However, older age was linked with worse physical and cognitive functioning.

A person's levels of resilience and depression seemed to be just as important as physical health in terms of the effect on successful aging, the researchers said. For instance, people with poor physical health but high levels of resilience rated themselves similarly to those who were physically healthier, but had lower resilience.

The results are in line with earlier research showing that well-being increases with age.

The findings suggest "increasing resilience and reducing depression might have effects on successful aging, as strong as the effects of reducing physical disability," the researchers write in the Dec. 7 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry. "This ending points to an important role for psychiatry in enhancing successful aging in older adults, even in those with physical disabilities," they wrote.

The researchers gathered information at just one point in time, so studies that follow the same people over time are needed to confirm the results.

The study did not include people in nursing homes, and it's possible that people who would have given themselves lower ratings were not included in the study due to death or institutionalization, the researchers said.    However, the researchers noted the study participants were also not unusually healthy in any particular way -- aging was still linked with worse physical health and mental abilities. Pass it on: Older adults are more likely to say they've aged successfully than adults in middle age.

Follow Rachael Rettner on Twitter @RachaelRettner, or MyHealthNewsDaily @MyHealth_MHND. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.