A study has found that older men may worry less about COVID-19 and may be less likely to make behavioral changes in response to the pandemic.
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New research has found that despite being a more at-risk demographic, older men are likely to worry less and make fewer behavioral changes in response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.
The research, published in The Journals of Gerontology, concludes that older men might require more education and intervention to ensure that they perceive the risks of COVID-19 accurately.
Worrying about COVID-19
The sudden emergence and rapid spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, as well as the risks associated with contracting COVID-19, have necessitated radical changes in people’s everyday life.
Emerging information about the virus has identified the demographics most vulnerable to a severe reaction to the virus.
While everyone should be making behavioral changes to reduce the spread of the virus, vulnerable groups need to take extra care, since severe COVID-19 can be life threatening.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 8 out of 10 COVID deaths in the United States have been people aged 65 and over. Research has also shown that men are at higher risk of a worse disease outcome, including death.
Given this, one may expect that men aged 65 and over may be more cautious and more worried about the virus. However, previous research has shown that older men are less likely to worry about death and their mortality than other demographics.
According to Dr. Sarah Barber, a gerontology and psychology researcher at Georgia State University and corresponding author of the study, “[n]ot only do older adults exhibit less negative emotions in their daily lives, they also exhibit less worry and fewer PTSD symptoms following natural disasters and terrorist attacks.
“In normal circumstances, not worrying as much is a good thing. Everyday life is probably happier if we worry less. However, where COVID-19 is concerned, we expected that lower amounts of worry would translate into fewer protective COVID-19 behavior changes.”
The present paper explored whether these known reductions in worry were the same or similar concerning COVID-19 and if this was likely to affect a person’s likelihood of making behavioral changes in response to the virus.
Risk, worry, and behavioral changes
To conduct the research, the authors gathered participants aged 18–35 and 65–81. After excluding participants who had received a diagnosis of COVID-19, the remaining sample consisted of 146 younger people (78 women, 68 men) and 156 older people (74 women, 82 men).
The researchers asked each participant to fill in a questionnaire to assess their relative levels of risk perception, worry, and behavior changes in response to the pandemic.
The researchers assessed the risk by asking if the participants thought people were over-reacting to the virus and if they thought the virus was no worse than seasonal flu. The participants answered the questions according to a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree).
To assess worry, the participants answered a series of questions about whether they worried about catching COVID-19 or its negative effects on their livelihood. The questionnaire asked the participants to select one of the following options to indicate their levels of worry: (a) not at all, (b) a little, (c) a moderate amount, (d) a lot, and (e) a great deal.
The questionnaire also posed a series of questions to assess behavioral changes. Questions included whether the participants were washing their hands more frequently, if they were wearing a hygiene mask more often, or if they had stopped shaking hands. For each question, participants could respond either (a) Yes, (b) I am considering it, but not yet doing it, and (c) No.
Less worry and fewer changes
The study found that most people were moderately concerned about the pandemic, and 80% of respondents had made behavioral changes in response to it.
However, the study also found that older men worried less than other participants about COVID-19 and made the fewest changes to their behavior.
Despite these findings, Dr. Barber does not believe the answer is to encourage older men to worry more. As she and co-author Hyunji Kim note, “[w]orry has been associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease, with poorer physical health, and with greater declines in learning and memory over time.”
Dr. Barber thinks it would be better to ensure older men accurately understand the risks of COVID 19.
“Our study showed that for older men, accurate perception of risk worked as well as worry to predict preventive behaviors,” Dr. Barber said.
An accurate perception of risk may have improved since the researchers conducted the study. Dr. Barber notes that the study took place “right after the pandemic was declared, and we all hope that a more accurate perception of risk has evolved over the last 2 months.”
Nonetheless, the study’s findings indicate the importance of ensuring people, particularly older men, have an accurate perception of the risks of COVID-19.
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