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In US, ‘Older Old’ Seem to Show More Resilience During Pandemic

According to a new survey, America’s oldest adults say they’ve been through worse, but many are feeling the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and prolonged social distancing measures.

Study author Dr. Kerstin Emerson, a clinical associate professor of gerontology at the University of Georgia’s Institute of Gerontology, said she’s concerned that older adults could be experiencing heightened feelings of loneliness due to social distancing.

“Many of the social venues that help older adults stay engaged are effectively cut off now with social distancing. While the Internet can help with some connections, it is hard to replace human contact,” said Emerson. “And for some these remote connections aren’t possible due to no reliable Internet.”

As states began issuing shelter-in-place orders, Emerson decided to conduct a survey of older adults to see how they were coping and to possibly find some ways to help.

A total of 833 adults ages 60 and older living in the U.S. completed the survey between March 30 and April 12.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released recommendations on March 5 encouraging older adults to stay home to protect themselves from COVID-19 exposure. By the time participants took the survey, they had been social distancing for an average of 17 days.

Emerson was particularly interested in how the responses differed among two subsets of survey participants, those aged 60 to 70 and those 71 and older.

“Part of the reason I did that was because I wanted to see if there was a difference by age groups, among the ‘younger old’ and ‘older old,’ who may have different work responsibilities and living situations,” said Emerson.

Two themes emerged from survey responses, which seemed to divide along that age line. About 40% of 60- to 70-year-old respondents said they felt moderately or very stressed and felt out of control of their lives.

That could be the reason why this subgroup also reported more increases in some unhealthy behaviors, such as drinking more alcohol and eating more than usual. One-third report exercising less, although Emerson also noted that one-third of the same group reported exercising more.

Interestingly, the older subgroup, those 71 and older, seem to be handling stress better than their younger counterparts — 74% said that they were experiencing little to no stress, comparing the current situation to being no more stressful than living through wartime in the past.

“That’s where older adults have a strength,” said Emerson. “They have life experience and coping mechanisms that we don’t often give them credit for, but that’s part of their wisdom. We can really turn to older adults as examples of how to manage and live through bad periods of history.”

The survey also found that communication across all modes has increased. More older adults are calling, texting, emailing and using social media.

Compared to pre-social distancing, two-thirds of respondents are on social media, like Facebook, and using more smart devices. Over half reported using video calls once a day.

The new findings are key for public health practitioners, said Emerson, who are trying to develop interventions to support the emotional and physical well-being of older adults remotely.

Emerson acknowledges that the survey respondents represent individuals who have access to the internet and a personal computer or smart device, “so we’re probably not reaching the most vulnerable populations, people who are socially isolated in rural areas or who are incredibly poor.”

There is always more to learn, said Emerson. “The survey ends up raising more questions than giving answers in some cases, but that’s the nature of it.”

Source: University of Georgia



In US, ‘Older Old’ Seem to Show More Resilience During Pandemic

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2020). In US, ‘Older Old’ Seem to Show More Resilience During Pandemic. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 2 Aug 2020 (Originally: 3 Aug 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 2 Aug 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.