Image of Lindsay Kobayashi, Ph.D.; Credit: University of Michigan
Lindsay Kobayashi, Ph.D.; Credit: University of Michigan

Seniors with poor physical and mental health have endured an outsized burden of stress in the time of COVID-19, a new poll of U.S. adults finds.

Although the oldest respondents to a National Poll on Healthy Aging update were more likely to report resilience than their middle-aged counterparts during the pandemic, new findings also reveal the complex effects of the pandemic on this age group.

Fully 71% of adult respondents aged 50 to 80 years old reported that they had the same ability to overcome challenges and bounce back as they did before the pandemic. In fact, 15% reported that they now feel more resilient. In contrast, 14% of respondents in this age group reported feeling less resilient than before the pandemic, with some fearing to leave their homes. 

Notably, seniors in fair or poor physical or mental health were 25% more likely than their healthier peers to say they felt less resilient than before the pandemic, the researchers reported.

In addition, income disparities were associated with fewer experiences of joy and more stress, “highlighting the potential vulnerability of older adults in lower income households to the current economic and social conditions,” they wrote.

The link between health status and ability to find joy during stressful experiences underscores the importance of focusing on those in poor health, said poll report co-author Lindsay Kobayashi, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan Health. “But for all older adults, we know that alterations in daily life impact emotional and mental health, so finding safe ways to enjoy favorite activities is important.”

The poll was conducted before booster shots became widely available, and the relative ease of acquiring one now may go a long way toward reducing stress in this age group, added poll director Preeti Malani, M.D., also of the University of Michigan Health.

“This poll shows this may be especially important for those who have developed a stress-based response to activities that once were indeed very risky before vaccines, boosters and increased access to rapid testing, but now can be safely navigated by most people,” Malani said in a statement. “This includes small gatherings of fully vaccinated people or attending events with vaccination, testing, and requirements for masks.”

More details on the poll update, including where most older adult respondents said they have found sources of joy during the pandemic can be found on the National Poll on Healthy Aging website.