There’s no secret that people of older ages are dying at greater numbers from the Covid-19 coronavirus. But along with medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and immunocompromised conditions that contribute to complications, some older men are putting themselves at greater risk by worrying less about catching the illness or dying from it.
That’s right—worrying less can be risky.
Researchers at Georgia State University say worry motivates people to take preventive health care steps such as healthy eating, exercise, and timely screenings. They say worry begins to ease up with age and is lower among older men than women.
Sarah Barber, a gerontology and psychology researcher at Georgia State University teamed up with doctoral student Hyunji Kim to find out how less worry affected responses to the coronavirus pandemic.
“In normal circumstances not worrying as much is a good thing,” says Barber. “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.”
Participants, all who live in the U.S. answered an online questionnaire from March 23-31. There were two age groups, primarily Caucasian with at least some college education: 18-35 and 65-81.
Researchers looked at answers to perceive the severity of Covid-19, whether they thought others were over-reacting, and whether it’s similar in risk to the flu.
They also asked participants how worried they were about catching the virus, dying from the virus, a family member catching it, lifestyle disruptions, hospitals being overwhelmed, economic recession, loss of personal income, and stores running out of food or medicine.
In addition, the questionnaire covered behavioral changes, such a person’s willingness to wear a mask, practice social distancing, avoid public places or take more care with a balanced diet, and keeping an extra supply of food and medicine on hand to avoid going out as much.
The study revealed that most people are at least moderately concerned about the virus and more than 80% say they are washing their hands more frequently, avoiding shaking hands and staying away from public places.
More than 60% say they were no longer socializing with others.
But the catch was older men.
Compared with other participants older men expressed less worry and had adopted the fewest number of behavior changes. They were less likely to wear a mask, stop touching their faces, or stock up on food.
Study authors say their goal isn’t to create a sense of worry in older men, but they do want to help them accurately understand their risk.
“If older men can be better educated about the virus, they may adopt protective behaviors even if they don’t feel worried,” says Barber.
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