Wisdom supposedly comes with experience and the results of a new study that investigated emotional responses to the COVID-19 pandemic backs up that notion. Researchers from The University of British Columbia found that North American (US & Canada) adults over the age of 60 have coped better emotionally in the midst of the coronavirus than their younger counterparts (adults aged 18-39 years old).
After analyzing diary entries written sometime between mid-March 2020 and mid-April 2020, the study’s authors noted that older adults have been able to maintain greater levels of emotional wellbeing throughout the pandemic. Older individuals have also felt less stressed and less threatened.
“Our findings provide new evidence that older adults are emotionally resilient despite public discourse often portraying their vulnerability. We also found that younger adults are at greater risk for loneliness and psychological distress during the pandemic,” says lead study author Patrick Klaiber, a graduate student in the UBC department of psychology, in a university release.
A total of 776 Canadian and American adults, between the ages of 18 and 91 years old, took part in this research. Each person filled out a series of daily diary-like surveys for a full week. Those surveys asked participants about their stressors, emotions, and any positive events that had happened over the first month or so of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The research team wanted to examine the March/April 2020 period specifically because it was a time of great uncertainty. The pandemic was just starting, everyone’s life was turned upside down, and no one knew what to expect next.
There are various possible explanations for these findings. Older adults largely haven’t had to worry about pandemic-related work or employment issues, due to most being well into retirement by now. Also, most older peoples’ children have already grown up and moved out of the house as well.
“Younger and middle-aged adults are faced with family- and work-related challenges, such as working from home, homeschooling children and unemployment,” Klaiber explains. “They are also more likely to experience different types of ongoing non-pandemic stressors than older adults, such as interpersonal conflicts.”
“While older adults are faced with stressors such as higher rates of disease contraction, severe complications and mortality from COVID-19, they also possess more coping skills to deal with stress as they are older and wiser,” he adds.
Another noteworthy finding from the study was the revelation that older and middle-aged adults actually reported having more positive remote-social interactions (texts, calls, video chats) than younger adults. In all, 75% of surveyed older adults reported more positive events than younger participants.
“While positive events led to increases in positive emotions for all three age groups, younger adults had the least positive events but also benefited the most from them,” Klaiber concludes. “This is a good reminder for younger adults to create more opportunities for physically-distanced or remote positive experiences as a way of mitigating distress during the pandemic.”
From a physical perspective, we all know that the older among us are at a greater risk of a severe COVID-19 infection. This research, however, serves as a reminder that younger people are more prone to emotional distress right now.
The full study can be found here, published in the Journal of Gerontology Series B.