Atlanta, GA—Pharmacists are spending a lot of time urging compliance with measures to reduce transmission of COVID-19. The highest payback for those efforts, according to a new study, might come from focusing on a specific demographic—older men.

An article in the Journals of Gerontology suggests that older men might be at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 because they worry less about catching or dying from it compared with both women their age and younger people of both sexes.

Georgia State University–led researchers advise that this is a special concern because, despite their lack of worry, older men are already more at risk of severe or fatal COVID-19 infections. COVID-19 research indicates that fatality rate of COVID-19 steadily rises with age, and that men are more likely to become severely ill or die than women.

Study authors administered an online questionnaire from March 23-31, 2020, assessing COVID-19 perceptions, worries, and behavior changes. Participants were a convenience sample of United States residents, who were community-dwelling younger adults (aged 18 to 35 years) or older adults (aged 65 to 81 years). Analyses included 146 younger adults (68 men, 78 women) and 156 older adults (82 men, 74 women). Study authors advise that participants were predominately white, living in suburban/urban areas, and had completed some college.

“During the early phase of the outbreak in the United States, older adults perceived the risks of COVID-19 to be higher than did younger adults,” researchers report. “Despite this, older men were comparatively less worried about COVID-19 than their younger counterparts. Compared to the other participants, older men had also implemented the fewest behavior changes.”

The authors recommend interventions to increase COVID-19 behavior changes in older men, adding that their research highlights the importance of understanding emotional-responses to COVID-19 and its role in predicting behavioral responses.

Results weren’t surprising, the authors note, because worry tends 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,” said lead author Sarah Barber, PhD, a gerontology and psychology researcher “they also exhibit less worry and fewer PTSD symptoms following natural disasters and terrorist attacks.”

The reason, Dr. Barber adds, is that older adults have better coping strategies, possibly gained through experience, and, therefore, are able to regulate their emotional responses better.

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

“In normal circumstances,” Dr. Barber pointed out, “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 questionnaire assessed the perceived severity of COVID-19, such as whether respondents thought people were overreacting to the threat of COVID-19 and whether it was similar in risk to flu. It also delved into worries about COVID-19, including how worried participants were about catching the virus themselves, dying as a result of it, the possibility of 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 also 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.

Most participants were at least moderately concerned about COVID-19, Dr. Barber said, with only one respondent, an older male, having “absolutely no worry at all.” As predicted, respondents who were more worried also engaged in more protective behavior; more than 80% of participants reported washing their hands more frequently, taking more care about cleanliness, no longer shaking hands and avoiding public places. More than 60% of participants also reported no longer socializing with others.

Older men were less likely to do any of it, according to the study. Dr. Barber suggested the answer is not inciting worry in that cohort but to help them better understand their own risks.

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

If better education, older men might adopt protective behaviors even if they aren’t that worried. Barber noted 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.”

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.

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