Successful Aging: 5 reasons why older people are handling the pandemic better than some younger folk


I recently spoke to a male friend, age 82, who bemoaned the hardship of his life due to the coronavirus. I don’t think the issue is money. He lives alone so I assume he may feel isolated. Although I was empathetic, I pointed out that our generation as retirees is better off than most. Any evidence that this is true? N.D.


Dear N.D.


It’s difficult to deny your friend’s feelings of hardship. Many older adults are victims of the virus and suffer not only physically but also emotionally, causing significant problems that are life-threatening, debilitating, depressing and even tragically leading to death. 


Yet when we take a broader look, we find recent studies that indicate older adults actually are coping better than others. A University of British Columbia study found that adults age 60 and older experienced greater emotional well-being and felt less stress from the pandemic than younger folks. Their well-being was attributed, in part, to their coping skills and wisdom. 


There is additional research to support this finding. Age Wave, a think tank in northern California and the investment company Edward Jones surveyed 9,000 people in the U.S. and Canada spanning five generations in the report “Four Pillars for the New Retirement.” Their research also found that older adults are managing better than younger folks.

To determine why this is the case, I spoke with the study’s author, Ken Dychtwald, CEO and founder of Age Wave. Here are some of the reasons. 


Financial safety nets. Older adults who are retired typically have income from Social Security, on average about $18,000 a year for a single person and $30,000 a year for a couple. These serve as some degree of protection. Younger people have none of these. Additionally, 75 percent of those aged 65 and older are homeowners; more than half have paid off their mortgage. This is not the case for most younger people.


Better mental health. Contrary to what one might expect, the research found that mental health improves over the life span. Since the pandemic, the Boomer and Silent generations rated their mental health higher than the younger generations. As expected, younger respondents rated their physical health higher than their older counterparts.


Less anxiety. Retirees are less anxious. They are not worried about losing their jobs or job disruption; they don’t have to fire people. Additionally, they are not raising kids at home who need to be supervised with remote and home-school learning as both parents work full time at home. He added that most retirees don’t have living parents so they no longer are caregivers. (Note many older adults are caregivers for their mates.) Furthermore, younger people generally have less experience in being uncomfortable. COVID-19 may be the first major crisis they’ve had to face. “And if young people worked in the gig economy, with no predictable compensation or benefits, their life has blown up,” he said. 


Resilience. Older adults are resilient and have extraordinary wisdom gained through their life experiences. They become spiritually and psychologically more powerful. They have lived through wars, recessions, losses of loved ones and even job failures, yet survived and many have even thrived. They also know that stressful times cannot last forever. 


Loneliness. Although feeling disconnected or ignored is a significant problem for many older people, Dychtwald’s research found that 20 and 30-year-olds reported higher rates of loneliness than their older counterparts. In many cases, these younger people even had roommates. 


What does all of this say? Younger people can learn a lot from the older generation. We elders have a role to play as the initiators to important conversations. We can offer tips in coping with stress, how to emphasize positive experiences during adverse times and a reminder how to feel and express gratitude. We can reassure young people that this too shall pass. 


What this calls for is more dialogue and communication between and among America’s six living the generations. Although this intention may be worthwhile, making it happen is more of a challenge. 


Here is a thought for us elders to consider. Contact young family members, friends and acquaintances. Ask how they are doing and how you can be supportive. Offer some relevant tips (not war stories) that might be helpful to them. It’s time to share our wisdom, insight and experiences, particularly during this pandemic. Think they are not interested? Guess again. A reassuring caring voice with practical tips is a gift during a public health and economic crisis. 

Thank you, N.D., for your question and best wishes to your friend in managing during this difficult time. Stay safe, be well and of course, be kind. 


Note: Ken Dychtwald is co-author of “What Retirees Want: A Holistic View of Life’s Third Age” (2020, Wiley). Available on independent bookstore supporting Bookshop.org https://bookshop.org/books/what-retirees-want-a-holistic-view-of-life-s-third-age/9781119648086 and on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/What-Retirees-Want-Holistic-Lifes/dp/1119648084. To access the study report, go to https://www.edwardjones.com/images/Edward-Jones-4-Pillars-US-report.pdf


Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulagingCommunity 

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