Module 6 - Resilience and Change Adaptation

1. Introduction

Brief description of the unit: In this unit you will learn/ be able to identify and describe the main elements of resilience and adaptation for a healthy and balanced living, focusing on the themes of sustainable life in third and fourth age. Learn about vulnerabilities and how to deploy strategies accordingly. Appreciate the importance of life-long learning and keeping active at different levels to strengthen one’s capacity to change habits and respond change habits and respond steadily toward new situations.

Competence statement:

To have a better understanding of what is adaptation and resilience and their importance for a balanced life and healthy ageing. Recognize the impacts that climate change has on older adults and the main mechanisms to mitigate these impacts.

Learning outcomes:

  • Understand and be able to explain resilience and adaptation to change in the face of personal and environmental challenges.
  • Recognise and remember factors that contribute to individual and community resilience, with a focus on the impact of climate change on ageing.
  • Develop and use strategies for personal growth, assessing and strengthening resilience, and appreciating the importance of adaptive capacity for well-being and quality of life.

Keywords:Adaptation, Resilience, Successful ageing, Healthy ageing, Climate change, Sustainable living.

Expected time: 6 hours

2. Adaptation and Resilience in Older Adults

All of us have heard the terms “resilience” and “adaptation” but do they actually mean?

Resilience is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as:
“ (…) the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioural flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands. (…)” (APA, 2023)

In turn, adaptation is defined under many terms depending on the topic referred too. On a “human level” it can be defined has:
“ (…)modification to suit different or changing circumstances. In this sense, the term often refers to behaviour that enables an individual to adjust to the environment effectively and function optimally in various domains, such as coping with daily stressors. (…)”

As a sum, adaptation is the action taken and resilience is the outcome of the adaptation (fig. 1). Often, these terms are used as synonyms.

Figure 1Differences between adaptation and resilience.

There is debate in the research community about whether resilience is a fixed personality trait or if it’s a process. Either way, the most common perspective is that resilience is an adaptive process that can be developed and enhanced (MacLeod et al., 2016).

Now that we have cleared those terms up, why adaptation and resilience are important to people? And why do they matter specifically for older adults? And what’s their relation to the climate change challenges we face?


Resilience and Older Adults

Climate change has impacts on all members of all societies however, as in every wicked problem, they affect people in different proportions.

Older people tend to be more vulnerable to climate change due to several reasons:

  • Chronic diseases
  • Mobility challenges, loss of muscular and bone mass
  • Slower physiological reserve and immunity response
  • Often have lower incomes and less access to infrastructures and services
  • Cognitive and sensorial challenges, such as loss of hearing and eyesight


The above-mentioned reasons are not present in the same number and severity in every older adult. Indeed, there is a tendency to overgeneralize the older population’s needs and challenges. However, the elderly are the largest age group, particularly in developed countries, which means that they are also the more diversified group in terms of autonomy and abilities, interests, expectations, and needs.

Society has a very generalised perception of this group’s needs and challenges. This inevitably influences public policies that aim to target older people. Mainstream practices and policies related to older people focus on an assistance-based approach that rests on a technocratic vision that doesn’t consider the local and individual cases and their needs.

As life expectancy increased, the challenges associated with ageing became more evident which led to a paradigm shift toward the need to promote active and successful ageing.

The concept of successful ageing embodies longevity with quality . The main goal is to expand functionality and well-being (Annele Urtamo et al., 2019). The concept was first introduced by Rowe and Kahn (1997), it has three main domains of action that focus on 1) avoiding getting ill, 2) maintaining a high level of physical and mental functioning, and 3) an active and engaging lifestyle (fig. 2).

Figure 2 – Successful ageing is composed of three elements: the maintenance of physical and cognitive function, minimising the risks of developing diseases or disabilities, and lastly, being able to keep engaged with life. Inspired by Fatemeh Estebsari et al. (2020).

Resilience is a key pillar of successful ageing since it designates the ability to bounce back from a stressful event or adversity in life (Reshma Aziz Merchant et al., 2022). High resilience has been linked to longevity and overall life quality. Studies show that highly resilient individuals have lower mortality, depression and mental health risks, cardiac diseases, stress resistance, and mobility. They also seem to have a more positive, hopeful, and grateful outlook on life as well as a better self-perception of ageing successfully (MacLeod et al., 2016). Resilience is multidimensional and includes mental, social, and physical components (MacLeod et al., 2016), the characteristics of these components are illustrated in fig. 3.

Figure 3 – The characteristics of highly resilient individuals divided by its three main domains: mental, social and physical (MacLeod et al., 2016).

As a sum, resilience and successful ageing have a positive feedback relation, by increasing one the other also increases. By promoting adaptation and resilience, one is also promoting happiness, strong coping mechanisms, optimism, a positive mentality and outlook, the development of a closer social circle, and engaging in a more active lifestyle (MacLeod et al., 2016). As a sum, to build resilience one should focus on:

  • Being kind – one selfless act every day
  • Being open about their feelings and be able to express them (writing and talking)
  • Being grateful – find at least one positive thing everyday
  • Have goals, as small or has big has fitted
  • Being active

Practical material

Activity 1: “Dear diary… today I feel resilient”


Activities for reflection

Do you ever feel anxious and hopeless? Can you share your main concerns and worries?

What are your escapes when feeling stressed and/or overwhelmed?

Can you think of any hobby/activity that could help you? (you may practise it or don’t, you might only have the interest in it)

3. Climate Change and Older Adults

Older adults are particularly vulnerable to changes in their environment. Partly due to some inherent conditions of ageing such as a slower metabolism, immune system response, and lower physiological reserve capacity. They also tend to develop chronic diseases such as diabetes and cholesterol and lower mobility due to loss of muscular and bone mass (Sala Mozos et al., 2023).

In terms of climate change resilience, the complexity of the phenomenon has been brought to light that the resilient strategies require an individual, societal, and structural (economic, social, cultural, and institutional) approach (Sala Mozos et al., 2023).


The direct consequences of climate change are easily understandable when we think about extreme events such as floods and hurricanes. Older people in these situations are particularly at risk due to lower mobility, cognitive and/or sensorial impairments that may challenge the perception of warning signs, and dependency on daily medication, which stocks might be impacted during these events. Another increasingly common phenomenon is heatwaves. Older adults have a lower physiological tolerance for high temperatures. Reluctance or unfamiliarity with coping strategies might put them at grave risk. In addition, the lack of a cooling system and/or financial concerns might prevent them from cooling their homes. Heatwaves are especially concerning in urban areas where the urban heat island effect exacerbates the extreme event (Sala Mozos et al., 2023).


The indirect effects of climate change are listed below:

  • Water insecurity – Low water availability and quality due to droughts, pollution, and water-borne diseases.
  • Food insecurity – Lower yields and food of lower nutritional quality. Food price increases can also lead to malnutrition in poorer older adults.
  • Poor air quality – The lengthier allergens periods and air pollutants concentration. Older adults are particularly at risk of hospitalisation, mainly those suffering from pre-established cardiorespiratory diseases.
  • Energy poverty – The failing of energy systems during extreme events or the high prices of daily consumable energy leads to less heating or cooling of the facilities, even when it’s extremely necessary.
  • Loss of effective ties and community displacement – displacement can be especially traumatic for older adults. Separation from family members and their community-based support puts them at special risk. Their deep ties to their homes and lands can also lead to a refusal of evacuation.


The older population is underserved in terms of programs and research that focus on building resilience, let alone related to climate change. However, some specific resilience interventions with older adults focus on a personalised and multidisciplinary approach with focus on lowering the risk of depression and increasing social support and connections (Lapierre et al., 2011; MacLeod et al., 2016; Philipp Kuwert et al., 2014).

Some examples of small interventions may include adjusting daily schedules and activities according to the weather forecast and fomenting adaptive coping strategies that focus on emotional regulation.

Day centres may be useful and effective places to hold resilience interventions. They can represent small communities where the elderly can establish and further develop social ties and acts of kindness, along with feeling useful. Some important strategies can be:

  • Day trips
  • Having social lunches
  • Cooking classes or holding a community kitchen
  • Low impact exercise classes
  • Painting & Arts classes
  • Gardening sessions
  • Volunteering in actions for the community


These kinds of activities promote social connections, allow participants to engage in physical and mental activities, to have a purpose and so, be happier and more fulfilled.

These interventions address mental, social, and physical aspects of resilience. Despite the little research that has been made regarding the topic, the role of senior centres, with this kind of approach, can hold a strong potential for resilience interventions targeting older adults. However, barriers like staffing and recruitment strategies exist. A standard tool for measuring resilience can facilitate the design, testing, and evaluation of interventions, enhancing study comparisons and improving resilience among older adults. More work needs to be done to achieve these goals (MacLeod et al., 2016).

Practical material

Activity 2: “Find and show – solutions to be more resilient to climate change”

Activity 3: “Ramified resilience”

Activities for reflection

Do you ever feel anxious and hopeless about the current climatic challenges? Can you explain that feeling and when it rises?

Can you give one personal example of an impact that climate change had/has in your life?

Do you have any coping mechanisms to deal with extreme events (heatwaves, cold spells, wildfires, etc.) or other phenomena linked to climate change (allergen season, air pollution, etc.)?

4. Unit in a nutshell

5. Quizzes

7. References

  • Annele Urtamo, Satu Jyväkorpi, & Strandberg, T. (2019). Definitions of successful ageing: a brief review of a multidimensional concept. PubMed, 90(2), 359–363. APA. (2023a).



  • Fatemeh Estebsari, Dastoorpoor, M., Zahra Rahimi Khalifehkandi, Nouri, A., Davoud Mostafaei, Hosseini, M., Esmaeili, R., & Hamidreza Aghababaeian. (2020). The Concept of Successful Aging: A Review Article. Current Aging Science, 13(1), 4–10.




  • Philipp Kuwert, Knaevelsrud, C., & Pietrzak, R. H. (2014). Loneliness Among Older Veterans in the United States: Results from the National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 22(6), 564–569.


  • Reshma Aziz Merchant, Aprahamian, I., Woo, J., Vellas, B., & Morley, J. E. (2022). Resilience And Successful Aging. The Journal of Nutrition Health & Aging, 26(7), 652–656.



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