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COVID has had a lasting effect on the physical and mental health of many older Americans. Nearly one in five adults ages 50 and over report having experience with long COVID, according to an AARP national survey.

spinner image Woman masking against covid virus

More than half of adults 50-plus have had COVID — 37% once, 11% twice, and 3% three times or more. About 18% of all those who have had COVID report having experienced long-term effects for more than four weeks, the threshold for being considered long COVID.

Symptoms

On average, older adults with long COVID experience four symptoms. Most typical are fatigue (66%), brain fog (47%), cough (45%), and the loss of taste or smell (43%). Other lingering effects include difficulty breathing (27%), anxiety (18%), depression (18%), gastrointestinal issues (17%), and fever (15%).

Many adults 50-plus (39%) have lived with symptoms of long COVID for a year or more, another 40% were affected for less than six months, and 20% were sick for between six and 12 months.

Daily activities can be challenging with long COVID.

The good news is that three-quarters of survey respondents (77%) say they have people to rely on when their symptoms are overwhelming. Also, most don’t feel they’ve been stigmatized for having long COVID (71% said not at all vs. 29% who felt stigmatized to a small, some, or great degree). Nevertheless, 59% believe society negatively judges people with the illness to some degree.

Self-assessing health

Among those living with long COVID, many say it has had a major impact on their physical health (21%), their mental health (18%), and social life (20%).

Long COVID sufferers tend to consider their level of health to be comparatively low. Only 30% of those who currently have long COVID and 41% who had it in the past rated their health as being excellent or very good. That compares to nearly half (48%) of all adults 50 and over who say their health is excellent or very good.

Those having experience with long COVID also tend to self-assess their mental sharpness lower compared to other groups. According to the survey, 73% of adults overall and 75% who had COVID (but not long COVID) said their mental sharpness was excellent or very good, while only 53% currently with long COVID and 67% who had it in the past rate their mental sharpness as highly.

The survey also explored mental well-being. Respondents were asked several questions related to mental well-being such as if they felt useful, optimistic about the future, or were able to deal with problems well. Those with long COVID at the time or in the past were shown to have lower mental well-being scores.

Methodology

The AARP report is based on a nationally representative survey of 1,294 Americans 50 and over. It was conducted in October 2023.

For more information, please contact Laura Mehegan at lmehegan@aarp.org. For media inquiries, please contact External Relations at media@aarp.org.

For previous AARP research on long COVID, see Who’s Getting Long COVID and How It’s Showing Up.

Suggested citation:

Mehegan, Laura. Impact of Long COVID on Adults Ages 50-Plus. Washington, DC: AARP Research, February 2024. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00763.001

 

Mehegan, Laura. Assessing the Continuing Impacts of Long COVID: 2023 AARP Focus Groups Among Adults Ages 40 and Older. Washington, DC: AARP Research, March 2024. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00763.003