Researchers looked at which age group coped better mentally with the pandemic - this is what they found

According to a study, many elderly people are not complying with preventative measures.
According to a study, many elderly people are not complying with preventative measures.
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  • Older people are coping better with the pandemic than younger generations according to a new study
  • Younger people are also more dependent on positive events for mental equilibrium than their older counterparts
  • The pandemic has given rise to a type of ageism that denotes the elderly as homogeneous and weak

No one in the world – or even people in your community – is experiencing the pandemic the same way.

Factors like age, social importance, job, finances and health vulnerabilities can make it a smoother ride for some and worse for others – but it's safe to say that you'd be hard-pressed to find someone that isn't suffering in some way due to the coronavirus

But new research suggests that the older you are, the better you are at coping with the added stress, despite the fact that age has a major impact on the severity and mortality of Covid-19.

READ | Despite risks, many elderly people not complying with Covid-19 preventative measures 

Few stressors

A University of British Columbia study, published in The Journals of Gerontology, found that older people are far more positive about life than younger people in the face of the coronavirus threat.

While research has shown that older adults have fewer stressors in daily life and enjoy more positive experiences, the question arose whether this resilience stays intact in the face of global crises like the pandemic.

They asked 776 adults between the ages of 18 and 91 to diarise their emotional well-being over a week during the period between March and April – basically at the start of the pandemic. They noted what stresses them out, if they're having any happy experiences, and how these affect them. They also asked them to rate the perceived threat of Covid-19 in their lives.

Some of the questions included their worry about loved ones' safety, achieving work and personal goals, financial stress and what people think of them.

Stressors were categorised as arguments, family drama, accidents, health issues, traffic and other negative impact events. These were divided into Covid-19 and non-coronavirus events.

These were then linked to negative and positive emotions, like calm, happy and confident or sad, angry and lonely. 

READ MORE | Why are certain people more at risk if infected with Covid-19? Scientists may have a clue 

Results

"Compared to older adults, younger and middle-aged adults were more concerned with harm to their emotional well-being, work goals, and finances," write the researchers.

"Younger adults also reported greater concerns about losing the respect of others and not achieving important goals, while middle-aged adults were more concerned than older adults about the physical health of others."

Younger adults were far more reliant on positive events to reduce negative emotions and increase positivity, while older adults appeared to be emotionally more resilient to stressors, despite having the same exposure to Covid-19-related stress. 

Older adults also had less conflict with family and others, with more positive interactions like long-distance socialising, being out in nature and seeing others in their social networks thrive.

Part of this could be due to the behavioural changes people had to implement in their lives. Students, professionals and middle-aged parents have had to make far more changes to their daily lives than someone who has independent adult children and may already be retired. 

READ | Home alone: Will pandemic's changes harm kids' mental health long-term? 

Covid-19 stressors

All ages, however, had the same reaction to Covid-19-related stressors, with high negative markers, although frequency differed.

"Middle-aged and older adults had Covid-19 stressors on nearly one-third of diary days, and younger adults had Covid-19 stressors on about a quarter of days."

"Older adults rated themselves as having less control over their stressors, but reported higher levels of coping efficacy, compared to younger adults." 

They also tend to focus more on how they react to situations, rather than trying to gain control over them.

Overall, everyone reported that they had far fewer positive experiences to report than usual, which is expected during such a world-changing period.

READ | 10 mental health apps to get you through 2020

Limitations

There are however vast limitations as the study is incredibly subjective. The participants were all white and educated, and do not reflect a wide demographic.

"Although our conclusions were based on age differences, people of similar chronological ages nevertheless can vary widely in their risks, life circumstances, and ability to cope with the outbreak."

Also, these days it's hard to differentiate between "normal" daily stressors and Covid-19-related stressors as the pandemic has become incredibly pervasive in all spheres of life. 

Rise of ageism

Interestingly, the researchers conclude that ageism has become quite prevalent during the pandemic, homogenising older adults as weak and unable to care for themselves.

"Our investigation of daily life amid the outbreak suggests the opposite: older age was associated with less concern about the threat of Covid-19, better affective well-being, more daily positive events, better perceived ability to cope with stressors, and less affective reactivity to non-Covid-19 stressors."

It has become important to not forget mental health concerns during this time, and provide more support networks and socially-distanced experiences that can help younger and middle-aged adults cope better, while keeping older generations physically safe and healthy.

READ MORE | Looking for ways to protect against pandemic PTSD

Image credit: Getty Images

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