Older men worry less than others about COVID-19

May 29, 2020

ATLANTA--Older men may be at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 because they worry less about catching or dying from it than women their age or than younger people of both sexes, according to a new study by Sarah Barber, a gerontology and psychology researcher at Georgia State University.

This is a concern because older men are already more at risk of severe or fatal COVID-19 infections. Data from the CDC show the fatality rate of COVID-19 steadily rises with age, and that men are more at risk than women.

To test levels of worry and protective behaviors, Barber teamed with Hyunji Kim, a Georgia State doctoral student in psychology, and administered an online questionnaire assessing COVID-19 perceptions and behavior changes. The results were published by the Journals of Gerontology.

It is well established that worry is a key motivator of behavioral health changes, said Barber, including motivating people to engage in preventive health care activities such as healthy eating, exercise and timely screenings. In general, worry begins to ease with age, and is also lower among men than women.

"Not only do older adults exhibit less negative emotions in their daily lives," she said, "they also exhibit less worry and fewer PTSD symptoms following natural disasters and terrorist attacks."

She said that this may be because older adults have better coping strategies, perhaps gained through experience, and thus are able to regulate their emotional responses better.

Knowing that older adults tend to worry less, Barber conducted a study to see how this affected responses to the global pandemic.

"In normal circumstances," said Barber, "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."

COVID-19 was declared a pandemic on March 11, and the questionnaire took place from March 23-31. Widespread behavioral changes were taking place, including the beginning of sheltering at home and social distancing.

All participants lived in the United States, and were primarily Caucasian with at least some college education. Participants were either aged 18-35 or aged 65-81, with 146 younger adults and 156 older adults studied.

The questionnaire assessed the perceived severity of COVID-19, such as whether respondents thought people were over-reacting to the threat of COVID-19 and whether it was similar in risk to flu. It also assessed worries about COVID-19, including how worried participants were about catching the virus themselves, dying as a result of it, a family member catching it, lifestyle disruptions, hospitals being overwhelmed, an economic recession, personal or family income declining and stores running out of food or medicine.

The questionnaire assessed behavioral changes that can reduce infection risk, from washing hands more often, to wearing a mask, avoiding socializing, avoiding public places, observing a complete quarantine or taking more care with a balanced diet and purchasing extra food or medications.

Not surprisingly, said Barber, most participants were at least moderately concerned about COVID-19, and only one individual, an older male, had "absolutely no worry at all." Also as expected, worry translated to protective behavior: more than 80 percent of participants reported washing their hands more frequently, taking more care about cleanliness, no longer shaking hands and avoiding public places. More than 60 percent of participants also reported no longer socializing with others. The participants who were most worried about COVID-19 were also the most likely to have implemented these behavior changes.

The catch was older men: compared to all other participants, older men were less worried about COVID-19, and had adopted the fewest number of behavior changes. They were relatively less likely to have worn a mask, to report having stopped touching their faces or to have purchased extra food.

Barber does not think the answer is to try to incite worry in older men. She thinks a better answer is to help them understand their risk accurately.

"Our study showed that for older men, accurate perception of risk worked as well as worry to predict preventive behaviors," she said.

If older men can be better educated about the virus, they may adopt protective behaviors even if they don't feel worried. She also notes that the survey took place "right after the pandemic was declared, and we all hope that a more accurate perception of risk has evolved over the last two months."

Either way, said Barber, older men may need a little extra coaching and attention to risk assessment and protective behaviors, both from concerned family members as well as their healthcare practitioners.
-end-


Georgia State University

Related Behavior Articles from Brightsurf:

Variety in the migratory behavior of blackcaps
The birds have variable migration strategies.

Fishing for a theory of emergent behavior
Researchers at the University of Tsukuba quantified the collective action of small schools of fish using information theory.

How synaptic changes translate to behavior changes
Learning changes behavior by altering many connections between brain cells in a variety of ways all at the same time, according to a study of sea slugs recently published in JNeurosci.

I won't have what he's having: The brain and socially motivated behavior
Monkeys devalue rewards when they anticipate that another monkey will get them instead.

Unlocking animal behavior through motion
Using physics to study different types of animal motion, such as burrowing worms or flying flocks, can reveal how animals behave in different settings.

AI to help monitor behavior
Algorithms based on artificial intelligence do better at supporting educational and clinical decision-making, according to a new study.

Increasing opportunities for sustainable behavior
To mitigate climate change and safeguard ecosystems, we need to make drastic changes in our consumption and transport behaviors.

Predicting a protein's behavior from its appearance
Researchers at EPFL have developed a new way to predict a protein's interactions with other proteins and biomolecules, and its biochemical activity, merely by observing its surface.

Spirituality affects the behavior of mortgagers
According to Olga Miroshnichenko, a Sc.D in Economics, and a Professor at the Department of Economics and Finance, Tyumen State University, morals affect the thinking of mortgage payers and help them avoid past due payments.

Asking if behavior can be changed on climate crisis
One of the more complex problems facing social psychologists today is whether any intervention can move people to change their behavior about climate change and protecting the environment for the sake of future generations.

Read More: Behavior News and Behavior Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.