Supporting Resilience in Older Australians

Written by Madison Kho
Wednesday July 2019

The Macquarie Resilience Team conducted a study of Resilience Training in an older adult population between September 2018 to May 2019. This research was aimed to evaluate how self-reflection resilience training could support older age groups. 


What is resilience?

Resilience can be described as “bouncing back” from a particularly difficult period or stressful event. As life comes with a number of unavoidable challenges – whether it be high workload, relationship difficulties, or financial hardship – being able to come out of a stressful time and retain good mental health, is a very valuable outcome. The resilience training that is provided and continuously researched by Macquarie University, focuses on how every day stressors can improve our capacity for resilience. In doing so, we advocate that stress can be adaptive and focus on the existing strengths and abilities people have when facing their challenges.  


The training

To do this, we use self-reflection to promote insight into your personal capacity for resilience and ways that you might develop it in the future. You may have heard of resilience training that teaches meditation, mindfulness, or controlled breathing, and it is great to extend yourself by learning new strategies to respond to stress. However, these specific strategies or ‘one-size fits all’ approaches may not be for everybody, and research shows that they tend to have modest benefits which wane over time.

Instead, through the structured self-reflection process, we encourage you to think about what coping strategies work best for you and what strategies will help you reach your idea of your ‘best self’. This approach allows you to build on existing strengths and use what fits your personal challenges and context.

This strategy for resilience training has been previously tested in military cadets between the ages of 18-45. The trial led to stronger and sustainable benefits to wellbeing, when compared to cadets who received more conventional mental health training. As a result, the Macquarie University Resilience Team are eager to see if these benefits apply to an extended age group.


Resilience in older adults

Older adults are an extremely important population within our society that provides wisdom and care to younger generations. The proportion of older adults is steadily increasing, both in the workplace and in the population at large. Soon, it is estimated that the number of people over 60 will be greater than the number of children. Thus, if our training is not helpful for older ages, it misses out on reaching a significant demographic group.

Largely, older adults are seen as a particularly resilient age group, having matured and grown from a wider array of difficulties. However, new challenges are associated with older age and therefore this training may help individuals adjusting to new circumstances. We hope to help older adults to be as mentally healthy as possible, so that they can continue participating in the activities they wish to for as long as they want.


What did we do?

Macquarie University collaborated with a fast moving consumer goods company to offer training to their employees over the age of 50. From this invitation, 99 individuals opted to participate in the training. To see whether the training could help older adults retain wellbeing through periods of stress, we designed a study that followed research standards that help us ensure accuracy in our results.

(1)    We used a comparison group

We can see how the training improved wellbeing by comparing results of a group that received the self-reflection resilience training and a group that did not.

(2)    We randomised our training sessions

We avoid the likelihood of people who are already more resilient being in one group or another, by randomising our training sessions to either contain the self-reflection resilience training or the comparison activity.

(3)    We followed-up participants three months after training

We can evaluate whether the training produced lasting results, by following-up participants at a distant time point after the training.

These are all important strategies in rigorous research to ensure that we are collecting accurate information. It can actually make it more difficult to find positive results by following these guidelines, however they are essential to conducting ethical and meaningful research.

Macquarie University also ran the self-reflection resilience program with 55 general members of the community. The results of these individuals were also looked at against our comparison group.


What did we find?

We found that in contrast to the comparison group, members of the community who received the self-reflection training displayed statistically significant:

(1)    Reductions in their perceived stress

(2)    Increases in their feeling of positive emotions

(3)    Increases in their confidence in coping

(4)    Increases in the belief that stressors can be enhancing and beneficial

These results were sustained three months after the training had been completed.

In summary, we have seen a positive impact of the self-reflection resilience training in the older adult population. It also appears that this training may be more beneficial to individuals are highly engaged in the training.


What now?

The Macquarie University Resilience Team are always looking for new opportunities to extend our knowledge and trial new research that can help others. We intend to build on these results so we can contribute further to this domain.