Looking for the Silver Lining: Benefit Finding after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in Middle-Aged, Older, and Oldest-Old Adults

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Looking for potentially positive outcomes is one way that people cope with stressful events. In two studies, we examined perceived "silver linings" after the 2005 Hurricanes Katrina and Rita among indirectly affected adults. In Study 1, middle-aged (ages 47-64 years), older (ages 65-89 years), and oldest-old (ages 90-95 years) adults in the Louisiana Healthy Aging Study (LHAS) responded to an open-ended question on perceived silver linings in a longitudinal assessment carried out during the immediate impact (1 to 4 months after landfall) and post-disaster recovery phase (6 to 14 months post-storm). Qualitative grounded theory methods were employed to analyze these narrative data. Team-based coding yielded three core themes: (1) learning experience and better preparedness for future disasters, (2) having improved cities (Baton Rouge and New Orleans), and (3) an increase in "Good Samaritan" acts such as strangers helping one another. Responses were similar across age groups, although older adults were the least likely to report positive outcomes. Study 2 was a conceptual replication using a different sample of adults (ages 31 to 82 years) tested at least five years after the storms. A learning experience and preparedness core theme replicated Study 1's findings while improved social cohesion amongst family and friends emerged as a new core theme in Study 2. These data indicate that identifying lessons learned and potentially positive outcomes are psychological reactions that may facilitate post-disaster coping and foster resilience for indirectly affected adults in the years after disaster.

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Current psychology (New Brunswick, N.J.)

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