Age Differences in Experiences of Pandemic-Related Health and Economic Challenges Among Adults Aged 55 and Older

Gerontologist. 2024 Jun 1;64(6):gnae023. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnae023.

Abstract

Background and objectives: The oldest adults faced the highest risk of death and hospitalization from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), but less is known about whether they also were the most likely to experience pandemic-related economic, healthcare, and mental health challenges. Guided by prior research on vulnerability versus resilience among older adults, the current study investigated age differences in economic hardship, delays in medical care, and mental health outcomes among adults aged 55 and older.

Research design and methods: Data were from the COVID-19 module and Leave Behind Questionnaire in the 2020 Health and Retirement Study (HRS). We estimated linear probability models to examine differences in experiences of pandemic-related economic and health challenges by age group (55-64, 65-74, 75+) with and without controls for preexisting sociodemographic, social program, health, and economic characteristics from the 2018 HRS. Models accounting for differential mortality also were estimated.

Results: Adults aged 65-74 and 75+ experienced fewer economic and mental health challenges and those aged 75+ were less likely to delay medical care than adults aged 55-64. Age gradients were consistent across a broad range of measures and were robust to including controls. For all age groups, economic challenges were less common than delays in medical care or experiences of loneliness, stress, or being emotionally overwhelmed.

Discussion and implications: Even though the oldest adults were at the greatest risk of death and hospitalization from COVID-19, they experienced fewer secondary pandemic-related challenges. Future research should continue to explore the sources of this resilience for older adults.

Keywords: Access to medical care; COVID-19; Economic hardship; Mental health.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • COVID-19* / economics
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • COVID-19* / psychology
  • Female
  • Financial Stress / psychology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology