Previous posts addressed reverence, gratitude, and other Be-Attitudes of gifted elders. In this post, I chose to deliberate a crucial construct and posture that enhances the lives of gifted elders–resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back in the face of difficulties. Picture a rubber band in its resting state. That can be a metaphor for the gifted elder as she addresses everyday needs, engaging in problem solving and future planning. Now imagine the rubber band being stretched to the point of breaking. The metaphor changes and we see a gifted elder being stretched to his limit by the phenomena that accompany aging. A few examples of the factors that can stress older adults are sleep difficulties, the aches and pains of aging muscles and joints, financial concerns, the loss of friends and loved ones, and perhaps terminal disease.
At this point in our example, if one end of the rubber band is released, it snaps back into its original state. However, to picture this snapping back in our gifted elders may not be the best scenario in the face of stress; because trauma followed by a rapid return to status quo without processing the depth of the cognitive disruption may create conditions for acute or long term stress. Thus, contrary to a rapid release of difficulty, resilience in my view is more a matter of using one’s coping strengths to facilitate an easing of stress, creative problem solving, and the recovery of a perspective of inner strength. Edwards, Hall, and Zautra (2015) wrote that, “Resilience thinking allows older adults to accept the wear and tear of aging, while also dealing with problems and crises – like losing a loved one, spousal caregiving, or acquiring a disability – in ways that leave them feeling stronger than they would have been if they had not encountered those crises. In resilience thinking, failure leads to growth” (p 1).
What does resilience look like in the gifted elder? Resilience is my brilliant ninety year-old friend who, despite loss, frailty and pain, continues to review his important body of work, making sure that colleagues have the needed notes and analyses in their hands. Resilience is my friend reeling from a life of coping with trauma, a university student in her sixties, who is of creating an affordable and sustainable residential living community for creative elders. Resilience is a health provider who, while healing from traumatic illness and surgery, spends hours “off the clock” supporting and allaying the fears of patients. These are just a few examples of strength and coping that I witness every day in our gifted elders.
What are ways to foster resilience? Edwards and colleagues suggested that several characteristics and behaviors foster resilience in elders, including optimism, effective coping, personal connections, a sense of purpose, self-efficacy, and a healthy diet/active lifestyle. I concur that all of these factors are important to building resilience in my observations. In addition, gratitude, mindfulness, the opportunity to continue creative productivity, and a sense of wonder and appreciation for nature are other aspects that I would mention as a result of my research and writing on gifted elders.
Returning to the metaphor of the rubber band, the resilient gifted elder is one who stretches herself in response to stressful life events, always having within the resources to gently relax, return to center, and regain a sense of awe and peace.
Reference: Edwards, E. S., Hall, J., & Zautra, A. (2015). Resilience in Aging. Elder Care: A Resource for Interprofessional Providers. Retrieved from https://goo.gl/kDYJEQ.
This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page August 2017 Blog Hop on Elder Gifted Issues. I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page for their inspiration, support, and suggestions over the last two decades. You can see blogs of others here.