Older age associated with lower stress, negative affect, and depression throughout the COVID-19 pandemic

Tony Cunningham, PhD

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center – Fellow
Cunningham_Tony poster

Scientific Abstract

Background: Advanced age is typically associated with increased emotional well-being. Interestingly, despite initial concerns about older adult’s emotional well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic given their increased risk for negative outcomes, reports from the first months of the pandemic suggested that they were faring better than younger adults, reporting lower stress, negative affect, depression, and anxiety. Here, we examined whether this pattern would persist as the pandemic progressed.

Method: A convenience sample of 1,171 community-dwelling adults in the United States, ages 18–90, filled out daily surveys on various metrics of emotional well-being (positive and negative affect, stress, depression, social isolation, worry about individual health, other COVID-19 related worries, and social isolation) starting on March 20, 2020 and at various time points through April 2021. In total, approximately 21 weeks of survey data was collected across this time period. We created time bins to account for the occurrence of significant national events, allowing us to determine how age would relate to affective outcomes when additional national-level emotional events were overlaid upon the stress of the pandemic. To test our hypotheses, we averaged responses for each participant in each time bin for each variable. The average responses in each time bin for each DV were analyzed with linear mixed models with a random intercept for subject.  The fixed effects were Age and time as continuous and categorical predictors, respectively.

Results: Older age was associated with lower stress, negative affect, and depressive symptomatology, and with higher positive affect, and this effect was consistent across time points measured from March 2020 through April 2021. Age was less associated with measures of worry and social isolation, but older adults were more worried about their personal health throughout the pandemic.

Conclusion: These results are consistent with literature suggesting that older age is associated with increased resilience in the face of stressful life experiences and show that this pattern may extend to resilience in the face of a prolonged real-world stressor.

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research Areas

Authors

Tony Cunningham, PhD, Eric Fields, PhD, Elizabeth Kensinger, PhD

Principal Investigator

Tony Cunningham, PhD