Older adults are especially vulnerable physically during the coronavirus pandemic. But they’re also notably resilient psychologically, calling upon a lifetime of experience and perspective to help them through difficult times.
New research calls attention to this little-remarked-upon resilience as well as significant challenges for older adults as the pandemic stretches on. It shows that many seniors have changed behaviors — reaching out to family and friends, pursuing hobbies, exercising, participating in faith communities — as they strive to stay safe from the coronavirus.
“There are some older adults who are doing quite well during the pandemic and have actually expanded their social networks and activities,” said Brian Carpenter, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. “But you don’t hear about them because the pandemic narrative reinforces stereotypes of older adults as frail, disabled and dependent.”
Whether those coping strategies will prove effective as the pandemic lingers, however, is an open question.
“In other circumstances — hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, terrorist attacks — older adults have been shown to have a lot of resilience to trauma,” said Sarah Lowe, an assistant professor at Yale University School of Public Health who studies the mental health effects of traumatic events.
“But COVID-19 is distinctive from other disasters because of its constellation of stressors, geographic spread and protracted duration,” she continued. “And older adults are now cut off from many of the social and psychological resources that enable resilience because of their heightened risk.”
The most salient risk is of severe illness and death: 80% of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in people 65 and older.
This article was originally featured in Kaiser Health News, read more here.