NIH Grant: Psychological Resilience as a Health Resource in the Context of Stressful Life Events in Later Life


Stressful life events (SLEs), especially those involving health, family, finances, and work are common in later life, and can result in significant decline in daily function (i.e., physical, cognitive, and psychological), and loss of independence and quality of life in later life. Psychological resilience (PR) is an intra-individual resource capturing the ability to adapt in the face of challenges. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) has identified resilience as a priority research focus to help understand and improve responses to stressors and health setbacks. Current studies lack evidence regarding the robustness of PR as a health resource across SLEs and its consistency across social groups. Our preliminary research provides reliability and predictive validity of a PR instrument we created called the Simplified Resilience Score (SRS) for use in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), the first PR measure available in, and created for, population health data. We have shown that PR is related to health benefits, and may promote recovery from certain SLEs. Our objective is to identify profiles (or combinations of individual chacterstics) of those most resilient to SLEs. We will leverage the SRS to identify profiles within the context of SLEs and other resources, and explore consistency of these effects across demographic groups. Specifically, our aims include: (1) determining if PR is a robust moderator of common SLEs on daily function in later life; (2) evaluating if PR has independent, interactive, multiplicative, or substitutional protective effects; and (3) evaluating which demographic groups are most and least protected by PR. We hypothesize: (a) individuals with higher levels of PR will experience fewer negative consquences of SLEs, and (b) PR will be most impactful when other resources (social, financial, psychological) are diminished or limited. We will evaluate PR effects by race, gender, and age, to determine if the relationships between SLEs, PR, other resources, and functional outcome trajectories vary across groups. We will account for selection using causal modeling techniques, conduct moderation and mediation tests to determine if responses to SLEs are dependent on PR, and identify resilient outcome trajectories across SLEs and outcomes. We will also conduct multiple group analyses to test how resources work alongside, in coordination with, or in place of PR, and whether the effects of PR differ by demographic groups. The goal of this R21 is to evaluate the potential of PR as a health resource and broaden the theoretical framework of resilience in later life based on population data. This work will provide a foundation for future work (including a future R01 application) to develop SLE interventions that foster stability and/or recovery. We will provide documentation and training for public use of the SRS measure in the HRS, supporting NIA’s initiatives to facilitate more robust evaluation of resilience mechanisms in population research. These materials will enable other researchers to effectively and efficiently expand population health research on PR.


Dawn Carr, PI

Miles Taylor, PI

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Project page corresponding to Award Notice Date May 22, 2023

Project page corresponding to Award Notice Date August 30, 2022