American Older Adults in COVID-19 Times: Vulnerability Types, Aging Attitudes, and Emotional Responses

Front Public Health. 2022 Feb 8:9:778084. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2021.778084. eCollection 2021.


The Coronavirus Disease (COVID) pandemic has aroused challenges to emotional well-being of the individuals. With 1,582 respondents from the Health and Retirement Survey (HRS), this study investigates the heterogeneity in older adults' vulnerability and examines the relationship between vulnerability types, aging attitudes, and emotional responses. International Positive and Negative Affect Schedule Short-form (I-PANAS-SF) and Attitudes toward own aging (ATOT) were used to assess the emotional experiences and aging attitudes, and 14 kinds of pandemic-related deprivations evaluated vulnerability of individuals. Latent class analysis (LCA) was used to explore the vulnerability types, and weighted linear regressions examined the relationship between vulnerability, aging attitudes, and emotional responses. The results showed that the proportion for individuals with mild vulnerability (MV), healthcare use vulnerability (HV), and dual vulnerability in healthcare use and financial sustainment (DVs) was 67, 22, and 11%, respectively. Older adults aged below 65, Hispanics and non-Hispanic Blacks, and those not eligible for Medicaid were more likely to have HV or DVs. The relationship between vulnerability and positive emotions (PAs) was non-significant, yet individuals with HV (beta = 0.10, standard error [SE] = 0.16) or DVs (beta = 0.09, SE = 0.28) were likely to have more negative emotions (NAs) than their mildly vulnerable counterparts. Furthermore, aging attitudes moderated the relationship between vulnerability and emotions. The salutary effect of positive aging attitudes on emotional well-being was more significant among people with DVs than those with MV (beta = 0.20, SE = 0.04 for positive responses; beta = -0.15, SE = 0.04 for negative responses). Thus, we urge more attention for vulnerable older adults in a pandemic context. Meanwhile, encouraging positive aging attitudes might be helpful for older adults to have better emotional well-being, especially for those with DVs.

Keywords: COVID-19; aging attitudes; emotion; older adults; vulnerability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology
  • Aging / psychology
  • Attitude
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • United States / epidemiology