How Older Adults React to Adversity



According to Stoic philosopher Epictetus, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Older adults may have an edge in reacting to adversity in a sanguine manner. At least that’s what a recent study of responses to heart failure suggests.

As described in this report, a research team led by Debra Moser of the University of Kentucky looked at how younger and older adults (the over/under being above age 62 vs. 62 and younger) with heart failure evaluated their quality of life. The older patients were sicker and more impaired, yet they reported less physical, psychological and social impact of their illness and had less depression and anxiety.

To better understand this finding, the researchers interviewed a small subset of participants. The younger patients were focused what they could no longer achieve. The older patients focused instead on the limitations they saw in others their age, and concentrated on what they could still do rather on what they could no longer do. Many commented that “It could be worse.”

As Ms. Moser, the lead author, put it, “older people are better able to reframe their lives.” Or, as Epictetus would have it, even serious illness matters less to our well-being than does how we react to it. Focusing on what they could still do, the older participants were grateful for being spared worse afflictions. Perhaps this is a crucial feature of the wisdom that comes with age: that we become more able to look at all of life with gratitude.

About Bob Ritzema

I am a fourth-generation American of Dutch ancestry and am trained as a clinical psychologist. In 2012, I retired from Methodist University in North Carolina to return to . Michigan to help family. I maintain a part-time therapy practice in Grand Rapids. I currently worship at Monroe Community Church in Grand Rapids. I can be reached at
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