Journal of Aging Studies vol:26 issue:3 pages:343-354
The aim of this article is to examine how older people mobilise sources of strength, often denoted under the concept of resilience, to maintain mastery over their lives in the context of significant threats to their function. Departing from a relational approach to resilience, we focus on how they cooperate and interact with significant others to achieve their personal goals. This is illustrated by the narratives of two older women. The concept of resilience helps us to reflect on their stories and to gain an in-depth understanding of the mediating sources of strength older people rely on when encountering the losses associated with old age. The narratives of the women show that what on the surface appears to be a similar burden to a life or function, turned out to be interpreted and responded to in a different way. Maintaining mastery in old age is a symbolic and interactional process, and a shared responsibility for older persons and their social environment. Important mediating sources of strength that turn out to influence positively one's sense of mastery include a positive perception of one's situation, openness about one's vulnerability and responsiveness to help. In order to promote older people's sense of mastery, significant others need to approach them in a positive way, by being aware of the way support is offered, by believing in their potential and strength and by allowing reciprocity in the relationship. When these conditions are fulfilled, it becomes possible to enter into a constructive dialogue and recommendations can be developed – in terms of treatment – that are consistent with the older persons' values and expectations.