How Interconnectedness Affects Elderly Resilience

Summary: A new study illuminated the consequences of a tighter interconnection between different domains of functional capacity in the elderly, pointing towards a reduced resilience in the system. This study reveals that in older populations and those in poorer health, the domains of functional capacity—mobility, sensory, cognitive, and mental functions—are more closely linked, making the system vulnerable to cascading failures.

By examining the interconnectedness through network analysis, the research suggests that maintaining a balance between interconnectedness and independence within these domains is crucial for preserving functional capacity and overall well-being in old age.

Key Facts:

  1. Tight interconnections between functional capacity domains in the elderly may signal reduced system resilience, leading to cascading failures.
  2. The study utilized network analysis to reveal closer links among functional capacity domains in older adults and those with poorer health.
  3. Maintaining enough reserve capacity allows for adaptation and compensation, which is essential for aging populations to maintain quality of life.

Source: University of Jyväskylä

In old age, a tighter interlinkage between different domains of functional capacity may indicate a loss of system resilience.

This was observed in a study conducted at the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. When functional capacity domains are tightly interconnected, a disruption in one domain can affect others and lead to a collapse in functioning.

It is therefore important to look at functioning as a whole and to take care of the different aspects of physical and mental well-being.

This shows an elderly couple holding hands.
Different resources also allow for modifying behavior so that important things can still be done. Credit: Neuroscience News

Human functional capacity can be thought of as an ecosystem consisting of different components such as mobility, sensory, cognitive, and mental functions. As a person ages, the resilience of the functional capacity system enables it to maintain and recover when faced with setbacks or challenges. 

The population-based study used network analysis to investigate the interconnectedness of different domains of functional capacity.

The results showed that the functional capacity domains were more closely linked in older people and those with poorer health. The resilience of the functional capacity system may have similar features to resilience in other systems, such as natural systems or the economy. 

“For example, a highly networked economy across national borders has been seen to increase the vulnerability of supply chains. The same idea can apply to health and functioning,” says postdoctoral researcher Kaisa Koivunen. 

“Although the body and mind are interconnected, they must also be sufficiently independent of each other. A tightly interconnected system can lead to a domino effect: a disruption in one area of functioning may spill over to the rest of the system, eventually collapsing it.” 

A resilient functional capacity system has, for example, sufficient muscle strength reserves, so that its deterioration, for example during bed rest, does not lead to a loss of walking ability, which in turn could lead to depressive symptoms. Different resources also allow for modifying behavior so that important things can still be done. 

“People are generally able to adapt if they have enough reserve capacity. They can compensate for one impaired capacity with other capacities,” says the Principal Investigator of the AGNES study, Professor Taina Rantanen.   

“For example, it is possible to move around despite reduced mobility if you can drive a car. This is possible if other aspects of functional capacity, such as good levels of information processing and sensory function, allow it. As compensatory mechanisms are depleted, resilience of functional capacity is reduced.”  

The conducted research provides a basis for applying approaches to systems resilience from other disciplines to the study of health and functional capacity. 

“As we age, sudden shifts, that is, critical transitions, in health and functioning can occur if a disturbance, such as an illness, exceeds the body systems’ capacity to cope,” Koivunen says.  

“Such tipping points and critical transition phenomena have long been studied, for example in natural systems in the context of global warming, but less in the context of human health and functioning.”  

Koivunen speculates that in the future it may be possible to determine whether the tipping point between “functional ability” and “impaired functioning” is approaching, for example, by examining the density of the body systems network. 

“In aging societies, preserving people’s functional capacity for as long as possible is important for maintaining a good quality of life,” Koivunen says.  

The study is part of the AGNES project funded by the European Research Council and the Research Council of Finland, which involved over a thousand people from Jyväskylä, Finland, at the ages of 75, 80, and 85. The study was conducted at the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences and the Gerontology Research Center (GEREC).

Funding: The study has also been funded by JYU.Well – an interdisciplinary community of wellbeing researchers from the University of Jyväskylä and Juho Vainio Foundation.  

About this aging research news

Author: Katri Lehtovaara
Source: University of Jyväskylä
Contact: Katri Lehtovaara – University of Jyväskylä
Source: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Closed access.
Investigating resilience through intrinsic capacity networks in older adults” by Kaisa Koivunen et al. The Journals of Gerontology Series A


Investigating resilience through intrinsic capacity networks in older adults


The network approach may provide a framework for understanding intrinsic capacity (IC) as a system underlying functioning. The system’s resilience to resist functional decline may arise from the interrelationships among system components, i.e., body functions or capacities. We applied network analysis to investigate whether the interplay between different intrinsic capacities differs according to age and self-rated health (SRH) in older adults.


The study sample consisted of a population-based cohort of community-dwelling older adults aged 75, 80, and 85 years (men n=356 and women n=469). We quantified five IC domains: vitality, locomotion, cognition, psychology, and sensory, using performance-based measurements and questionnaires, and estimated IC networks for two age (75- vs. 80- and 85-years) and SRH (higher vs. lower) groups separately for sexes. Differences in global network properties (e.g., density, overall connectivity) and centrality indices were compared between the groups.


IC network density (i.e., the number of edges) was higher in the 80- and 85-olds compared to the 75-year-olds, and in the worse compared to the better SRH group in both sexes. However, the differences in edge weights and global strength of the networks were statistically non-significant. Walking speed was the most central node in the estimated networks.


With increasing age and health decline, the IC network seems to become more denser, which may indicate a loss of system resilience. Walking is a more complex activity than the others requiring the functioning of many subsystems, which may explain why it connects multiple domains in the IC network.

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