Plucky individuals, older women and people who have recently suffered a major loss are more likely to be compassionate towards strangers than older adults, according to a new study in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

The research has implications for older adults, because compassionate behavior is associated with better health and better wellbeing in older individuals.

The researchers said their study offers insights on ways to improve the outcomes of individuals who do not show much compassion and who are at risk of becoming lonely and isolated later in life.

"We are interested in anything that can help older people age more successfully," said study co-author Lisa Eyler a professor of psychiatry at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. "We know that social connections are important to health and well-being, and we know that people who want to be kind to others garner greater social support. If we can foster compassion in people, we can improve their health and well-being, and maybe even longevity."

Test sujbects in the study came from a randomly selected group of 1,006 adults in San Diego County, Calif. Each of the subjects was older than 50, and subjects had a mean age of 77.

Eyler and her colleagues concluded that three factors tie in to how compassionate an older individual is: gender, recent suffering and high mental resiliency.

Women scored the highest on the compassion test, but higher levels of compassion were reported by both men and women who had recently experienced a death in the family or who had "walked a miles in another person's shoes," the researchers found.

Plucky individuals - those who show determined courage in the face of difficulties - also reported higher confidence in their ability to bounce back from hard times and show more compassion toward strangers.

"What is exciting is that we are identifying aspects of successful aging that we can foster in both men and women," said study co-author Dr. Dilip Jeste, a professor of psychiatry and neurosciences. "Mental resiliency can be developed through meditation, mindfulness and stress reduction practices. We can also teach people that the silver lining to adversity is an opportunity for personal growth."