Research shows that communities have improved the adaptability of older people during the pandemic

Key points

  • A recent study of more than 200 elderly people found that although most people encountered difficulties in the early stages of the pandemic, many people also saw some bright side.
  • Community awareness and collective initiatives have helped seniors increase their resilience during public health crises.
  • People can enhance their adaptability through social participation, creative thinking and meaningful activities.

A new study suggests that the famous lyrics of the Beatles “I live well with a little help from my friends” may provide clues as to why some seniors can focus on the positive under the pressure of the pandemic.

Recently published research Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Science A survey of more than 200 people around the age of 71 found that maintaining interpersonal relationships helps the elderly to enhance their adaptability and relieve stress. The results of the study emphasize the importance of the community to mental health, especially with age.


To understand the vulnerability and resilience of older people in the early stages of the pandemic, a team of Oregon State University researchers surveyed 235 Oregon residents between the ages of 51 and 95. Starting in April, the average age was about 71. age. May 28 to May 4, 2020.

Online surveys include scales and open-ended questions, where participants can share the challenges they encountered during the pandemic and the positive impact they have had. The researchers then coded their answers into 12 positive categories (such as “social optimism” and “community awareness”) and 9 difficulties (including “psychological distress” and “worries about personal finances”).

The results showed that at least 94% of the participants encountered difficulties in the early stages of the pandemic, and 63% of the participants listed a positive side.

Dr. Edwin Poon

The fact that two-thirds of the interviewees identified positive experiences due to COVID-19 suggests that older people may be more resilient than we expected.

— Dr. Edwin Poon

“The majority of the elderly in this study reported personal difficulties due to COVID-19, which is not surprising. This is consistent with the general concern that the pandemic may cause a mental health crisis among the elderly,” CalOptima Dr. Edwin Poon, a practicing psychologist and director of behavioral health integration in China, said that CalOptima is a community-based health program that serves low-income people. People in Orange County, California.

“However, the fact that two-thirds of the interviewees identified a positive experience due to COVID-19 suggests that older people may be more resilient than we expected,” he added.

Community survey results

In terms of interpersonal relationships, participants shared many other concerns, such as the financial situation of their adult children and the education of their grandchildren during distance learning. However, a greater sense of community seems to help alleviate some of these concerns.

David A. Merrill, MD, PhD

Feeling connected with others is a powerful psychological tool that can bring us comfort.

— David A. Merrill, MD, PhD

“Even if you are not physically together, maintaining a spiritual connection with others is a way to combat the overwhelming sense of loss caused by the increased social isolation caused by the pandemic,” said Dr. David A. Merrill, an adult and Geriatric psychiatrist and director of the Pacific Brain Health Center, Pacific Neuroscience Institute, Providence St. John Health Center, Santa Monica, California.

Participants are excited by community efforts, such as groups sewing masks and neighbors helping each other. Despite the lack of close contact with their loved ones, some participants still felt a strong sense of community unity, which made them less lonely in difficult times.

“Community allows people to stay emotionally and intellectually engaged,” said Rebecca Weingarten, a master of education, a trained consultant and psychoanalyst. She is the co-founder of the non-profit organization RWR Network and works with senior citizens. Work together to maintain a productive lifestyle under the pressure of the pandemic.

Overall, many elderly people in the study showed resilience in the early stages of the pandemic, defined as the “ability to see positive things in negative situations,” which helps individuals and collective groups overcome adversity.

“For the elderly and young people, resilience is a path to better health and well-being. It is important to find a glimmer of hope in life, and the more you put your energy into these positive life elements, you will feel The better,” Dr. Merrill said.

Limitations of the study

Although the study has deepened the understanding of how elderly people who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 behaved in the first few weeks of the pandemic, it is limited by factors such as the relatively single group of participants.

All participants were from Oregon, nearly three-quarters were women, and more than 90% were white. Most people are healthy, well-educated, and live with a spouse or partner.

Dr. Elissa Kozlov, lecturer and core faculty member of the Institute of Health, Healthcare Policy and Aging at Rutgers University, pointed out that their experience may be very different from that of older people of other races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Dr. Kozlov researched ways to improve the psychological outcomes of elderly people with serious illnesses.

“In addition, this research was conducted in the early stages of the pandemic,” she added. “I would love to know how these people’s responses to these issues have changed as the pandemic continues.” Nonetheless, these findings can help advance ideas on how to build resilience and how it can make people grow older. Benefit scientific knowledge.

“Understanding how resilience is a protective factor will help us find ways to support older people who are more vulnerable to mental health issues during a pandemic,” Pan said. “Compared with young people, older people may be more resistant to the anxiety, depression, and stress associated with COVID-19.”

His statement is supported by a survey of more than 5,400 American adults in June 2020, which found that compared with young people, people aged 65 and over are less likely to experience symptoms of anxiety or depression—It may be the result of the resilience they have built throughout their lives.

Increase resilience

Resilience does not eliminate stress and difficulties, but helps us cope with the challenges that occur in our lives, such as health problems, deaths, occupational changes, and natural disasters.

“Many times we think resilience is a personality trait, and there are indeed some qualities that help people experience this trait. But in the end, resilience is a shared thing,” Dr. Heidi Igarashi, the lead author of the study, said in a press release Say. “One of the things we discovered in our research is the extent to which the connections between people really matter.”

Fortunately, there are ways to hone and strengthen this trait, which can help you deal with stress. Dr. Kozlov said that finding ways to look at challenging situations from various angles can help increase your adaptability. “Many times, we are a bit stuck in the way we think about problems, which prevents us from finding new solutions.”

Alyssa Kozlov, PhD

I like that many seniors in this study not only see the pandemic as a new challenge, but also as a new opportunity to simplify their lives and re-engage in hobbies and their hyper-local communities.

—Elissa Kozlov, PhD

Dr. Poon added that participating in your social life (safe of course!) is also very helpful. He said: “Despite the pandemic, older people can still stay socially active and connected by participating in activities such as remote volunteering opportunities, family hobbies, and even social media.”

You can also enhance your ability to adapt to challenges by incorporating meaningful and happy activities into your daily life.

“This can start by asking yourself simple but difficult questions. Such as “Which part of the day do you like best?” What do you do for the most purpose? Is there something that is not so meaningful in your life that you can try to give up or reduce the importance or effort? ‘” Dr. Merrill said, and suggested things like “make a good cup of coffee and take a longer walk” and “volunteer service or other selfless behavior.” ”

Dr. Poon recommends that if the challenge is overwhelming, consider seeking mental health support. “No one has to act alone,” he said. “People can view their health plans and connect with providers who are trained to support their mental health.”

What this means to you

New research shows that during a pandemic, social connections and a sense of community contribute to the resilience of older people. Although these findings have limitations, they help deepen our understanding of how interpersonal relationships can help individuals and groups overcome adversity.

Resilience is not just a personality trait-it is a skill that can be strengthened. Experts say that you can increase flexibility by thinking creatively, maintaining an active social life, and engaging in meaningful activities in daily life. If the challenge of a pandemic or any other stressor proves to be overwhelming, consider seeking the support of a mental health professional.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means that you may receive updated information while reading this article. For the latest updates on COVID-19, please visit our Coronavirus News page.