Older men may be at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 because they worry less about catching or dying from it than women their age or than younger people according to a new study by Sarah Barber, a gerontology and psychology researcher at Georgia State University.

This is a concern because older men are already more at risk of severe or fatal COVID-19 infections. Data from the CDC show the fatality rate of COVID-19 steadily rises with age, and that men are more at risk than women.

Related: How COVID-19 affects the brain

Worry changes behaviour 

In an online questionnaire done in the USA, Barber and Hyunji Kim (a Georgia State doctoral student in psychology) found that older men were less worried about COVID 19 making them less likely to take preventative measures.

“It is well established that worry is a key motivator of behavioural health changes including motivating people to engage in preventive health care activities such as healthy eating, exercise and timely screenings,” said Barber. 

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“In general, worry begins to ease with age, and is also lower among men than women,” she said.

Older people generally worry less

“Not only do older adults exhibit less negative emotions in their daily lives,” she said, “they also exhibit less worry and fewer PTSD symptoms following natural disasters and terrorist attacks.”

Barber says this may be because older people naturally have more life experience and better coping mechanisms.

“In normal circumstances, 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 behaviour changes,” she says.

Related: Flu season is bad news for COVID-19 severity, scientists warn

Worrying more isn’t the answer

Although worrying would cause older men to take better precautions, Barber says understanding the risks properly could have the same effect.

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

Older men may need a little extra coaching and attention to risk assessment and protective behaviours, both from concerned family members as well as their healthcare practitioners.

Source: Georgia State University via Science Daily 

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