Mental and emotional well-being of older adults


A recent survey reveals that older people are on the verge of rebounding after the pandemic took a toll on their mental and emotional well-being.

Experiencing the pandemic has had a negative emotional impact on most of us. This study sheds light on the current emotional situation of older people and how they manage their emotional and mental well-being. This study also demonstrates that despite challenges related to emotional and mental well-being, most older adults report being resilient and expecting to be able to bounce back from these challenges. However, a deeper dive suggests that some older people could benefit from help managing their emotional and mental well-being.

While most seniors say their emotional and mental health is very good, many say they have been bothered by anxiety and depression.

When asked about mental health, two-thirds of people aged 50 and over say their emotional (64%) and mental (66%) wellbeing is excellent or very good. However, when asked about specific measures of emotional health, we find, two weeks before the study:

  • 45% had been bothered by anxiety.
  • 34% say they had little interest or pleasure in doing things.
  • 31% had feelings of depression or hopelessness.
  • 52% had difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

In addition to COVID, heightened anxiety among the over-50s can be attributed to personal challenges, domestic politics, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Most (61%) of people aged 50 and over say they have felt some level of anxiety in the past year. Experiences related to the COVID-19 pandemic can be considered the main culprit related to the level of anxiety felt by people aged 50 and over. Three in ten (31%) say the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic has increased their level of anxiety.

Although seniors have faced emotional challenges in recent years, they are resilient and feel they have what it takes to bounce back and thrive.

Even with high levels of stress and anxiety, people over the age of 50 claim to be resilient. When asked to rate their level of resilience from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest), the average score was between 7 and 8. In fact,

  • 58% rate their level of resilience as high (8, 9 or 10 out of 10).
  • 77% say their level of resilience has not changed since the start of the pandemic.
  • 13% say their level of resilience has actually increased over the past two years.

However, when asked about specific measures of resilience, a significant number of older adults struggle to adapt and bounce back when things don’t go as planned and/or during difficult times. For example, about four out of ten people don’t bounce back quickly after hard times. Additionally, far fewer adults aged 50-59 say they tend to bounce back quickly (56% for those 50-59 versus 64% for those 60+).

While it’s understandable to see a decline in mental health or emotional well-being during tough times, it’s not a normal part of aging. To combat possible reluctance on the part of older people to seek help to manage their emotional health, it is important that access to mental health treatment is easy, transparent and standardized. Ensuring that mental health and emotional well-being are considered during all medical visits is an invaluable step in ensuring that older people receive comprehensive care.

Methodology

This nationwide survey was conducted using the University of Chicago’s AmeriSpeak 50+ Omnibus probability sample NORC. AmeriSpeak is designed to be representative of the US household population. All data is weighted by age, gender and race according to the most recent census population statistics.

A total sample of 1,964 adults aged 50+ with multicultural oversamples of African American/Black (441 total) and Hispanic/Latino (405 total) and LGBTQ (n=228) were interviewed online and by phone between February 24 and March 1. 2022. Part of the multicultural samples came from the national survey sample. The survey was conducted in English and Spanish.

For more information, please contact Cheryl L. Lampkin at [email protected] For media inquiries, contact external relations at [email protected]

Suggested quote:

Lampkin, Cheryl. 2022 AARP Healthy Living Survey of Adults 50+. Washington, DC: AARP Research, August 2021. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00533.001

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