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Two years after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, AARP looks back at its survey research chronicling the challenges and resiliency of Americans age 50-plus.

Caregiving

The pandemic has heightened caregiver strain.

  •  In April 2021, more than four in 10 caregivers age 18 and older reported spending both more time per week and more money on caregiving as a result of the pandemic. In addition, almost three in 10 said the pandemic had impacted their caregiving-related financial strain.

  • At least three in 10 caregivers age 18-plus said the pandemic had worsened their own physical (32%) and mental (35%) health to at least some extent.

  • Nearly half of adult caregivers (48%) said the pandemic had worsened the mental health of their care recipient, and 43% said it had worsened their care recipient’s physical health to at least some extent.

Many adult caregivers age 18-plus who also hold down jobs have appreciated accommodations made by their employers — and they hope that flexibility continues.

  • As of July 2021, two in three adult caregivers (66%) expressed concern that they would have difficulty juggling responsibilities in the next year. 

  • More than half of working caregivers said their employer instituted new benefits as a result of the pandemic. The most common benefits were flexible schedules and the ability to work remotely. 

  • Flexibility is so highly valued that more than four in 10 caregivers age 18-plus said they would consider looking for a new job if their employer rolled back any of the benefits they had instituted during the pandemic.

Finance

Older Americans are experiencing a variety of financial concerns in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, including having enough money to pay bills, managing health care costs, absorbing cost of living increases, and saving for retirement. 

  • Three in 10 adults age 50-plus say their financial situation has worsened since the start of the pandemic. Hispanic adults (41%) and adults with incomes under $40,000 (36%) are especially likely to say that their finances have worsened. 

  • One in three (33%) adults ages 50–64 say that their situation has worsened, compared to just one in four (25%) of those age 65-plus.

  • Among adults age 65 and older, women (28%) are more likely than men (20%) to have experienced a financial decline.

Fraud

New communications technologies combined with the anxieties and stresses caused by the pandemic have created a perfect environment for fraud, scams, and security breaches.

  • As of October/November 2020, more fraud victims age 50-plus (29%) reported that their financial situation had gotten worse since the coronavirus pandemic started than nonvictims (22%).

  • More than one in five (22%) adults 50-plus encountered a COVID personal protective equipment (PPE) scam. Four percent (4%) experienced financial loss. Three in 10 (30%) Black adults age 50-plus encountered this scam, and 9% experienced financial loss. Nearly one in four (23%) Hispanic adults age 50-plus encountered it, and 7% experienced financial loss. 
        
  • About one in nine (11%) adults 50-plus encountered a COVID vaccine scam, and 3% experienced financial loss. One in five (20%) Black adults age 50-plus encountered this scam, with 7% reporting a financial loss. One in eight (12%) Hispanic adults age 50-plus encountered it, and 4% experienced financial loss.

  • The COVID vaccine scam was the third most successful scam in 2020 in convincing age 50-plus targets to spend money (26%), while the COVID personal protective equipment scam was the eleventh (20%).

Health (Diet and Exercise)

As of spring 2021, nearly half of adults age 50-plus said their ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle over the past year was more difficult. 

  • While most adults age 50-plus said their eating habits have not changed since the start of the pandemic (48%) or were at least a little healthier (32%), more than a quarter (29%) said they were eating more sweet snacks and a fifth admitted they were eating more salty snacks (20%) and/or highly processed foods (18%). Spending time at home and increased TV time were the most commonly cited culprits for these eating habits.

While half of adults age 50-plus said the time they spent exercising stayed the same, a quarter said it had decreased since the pandemic started.  

  • For those who have found it more difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle, a decline in exercise appears to have been a contributing factor, with more than a third (37%) saying the time devoted to exercise has diminished compared to prepandemic times. 

  • Overall, as of spring 2021, more than four in 10 (45%) said their exercise time would increase in the next six months. Key factors supporting an increase in exercise time included better weather (63%), the ability to go to parks/open areas (40%), and less concern about COVID-19 (36%).

Adults age 50-plus are resilient, and two-thirds (67%) of them say they have started or restarted doing an activity to improve their physical, mental, or emotional health since the pandemic. 

  • The top three activities included starting to take new vitamin supplements (28%), changing their diet (25%), and starting a new type of exercise (19%). 

Health Care

Pandemic disruptions mean many older adults still haven’t gotten needed health care.

  • Among adults age 50-plus who had appointments in 2021, 28% said they had a COVID-related disruption to a procedure, test, or operation; 29% reported a disruption to a primary care appointment; and 31% reported a disruption to a dental appointment.

  • The difference in rescheduling between adults of different vaccination status was stark. Depending on the type of care, 64%–85% of older adults who are vaccinated or vaccinated and boosted who experienced a disruption have rescheduled care as of January 2022, compared to only 30%–53% of those who are unvaccinated.

Telehealth behaviors formed during the pandemic appear to be here to stay.

  • As of February 2022, around one-third of adults 50–64 (35%) and 65 and older (29%) said they were extremely or very interested in using telehealth services themselves or for a loved one, maintaining the level of interest from April 2020 (50–64: 29%, 65+: 30%).

  • Half of adults age 50-plus (51%) say they or a family member has used telehealth in the past two years. Those 50–64 (56%) are significantly more likely than those 65-plus (46%) to have used it.

  • The top reason for those age 50-plus who have used telehealth to have used (or want to use) the service is for routine visits to the doctor (68%).  The top barrier those 50-plus have experienced when using telehealth (or anticipate experiencing) is concern that the quality of care is not as good as with in-person visits (32%).

  • A third of adults age 50-plus say they are extremely or very likely (33%) to use telehealth in the future for at least some medical appointments.  Black/African American adults age 50-plus (49%) are more likely than other groups to anticipate future use.

Source: Foresight 50+ Omnibus February 2022 (not yet published). The 2020 telehealth data referenced above is from an earlier iteration of the survey.

Mental Health

The COVID-19 pandemic has had complex effects on the emotional and mental health of older adults. For example, many often experienced joy and stress simultaneously, with about half of adults ages 50–80 saying they felt a lot or some of both.

  • As of August 2021, joy was more commonly cited than stress. Most adults ages 50–80 reported feeling a lot (30%) or some (53%) joy. Meanwhile, 20% of older adults reported feeling a lot of stress and 42% felt some stress.

  • Sources of joy for older adults included activities such as being outdoors (87%); physical activity (72%); and spending time on hobbies, skills, or projects (72%).  Further, four in five older adults also found joy in connecting with others in-person (83%) and by phone or virtually (79%).

  • About two in three older adults reported that the well-being of family or friends (67%) and national events or politics (66%) caused them a lot or some stress.  About half (48%) of older adults experienced some or a lot of stress about getting COVID-19.

  • Many adults reported feeling a sense of loss over missing activities or experiences during the pandemic or not being able to do them in the way they typically would. This included about two in three older adults who reported feeling a lot or some loss over not being able to see family (66%) or friends (63%) in person.

When asked about mental health, most adults age 50-plus said their mental health is very good. However, when asked about specific emotional health measures, half said they have been bothered with anxiety and/or having little interest or pleasure in doing things, and a third said they have been feeling depressed.**

  • Although most older adults say they have experienced a decline in their emotional well-being (increased anxiety, depression, worry, etc.), only one in eight said they have sought help from a mental health professional.

Technology

During COVID-19, older adults relied on technology to maintain some sense of normalcy and social connection. And while some aspects of day-to-day life have started to return to normal (going to the grocery store, eating out, etc.), some tech behaviors formed during the pandemic appear to be here to stay. 

  • Three in four people 50-plus say they rely on technology to stay connected: 50s (76%), 60s (79%), and 70s (72%). 

  • Year-over-year increases in ownership of primary tech devices is seen again in 2021, although not to the extent of the rapid onset of growth in 2020.  Currently, 84% of adults age 50-plus own a smartphone, 59% own a tablet, and 67% own a Smart TV.

  • The significant increases in the use of smartphones and tablets recorded in 2020 for such activities as making online purchases, ordering groceries, banking, and engaging health services were maintained in 2021, as were the increased use of numerous apps.

  • One-third (35%) of those 50-plus now own a home assistant, up from 17% just two years ago, and nearly one-third (30%) own a wearable, up from 17% in 2019.

  • Almost one-fourth (23%) now have smart home technology, up from 10% in 2019. 

  • A desire to learn more about tech remains steady as one in three (35%) say they would use technology more often if they knew how. 

Travel

Travelers age 50-plus are more optimistic about travel in 2022 than they were in 2021, and they plan to be big spenders.

  • While 2021 travel did not turn out as expected, with half (51%) taking fewer trips than planned, adults 50-plus are feeling safer about traveling this year (77% vs. 40% last year).

  • More are planning to take at least one trip in 2022 (67% vs. 54% last year) with most respondents planning an average of roughly four trips — just a bit below prepandemic norms.

  • Travelers’ enthusiasm for returning to travel is evident in a rise in anticipated spending beyond prepandemic levels ($8,369 vs. $7,314 expected for 2020, prepandemic).

    • Travelers 70-plus will be the biggest spenders in 2022 ($11,561), but they are more concerned about the pandemic than younger travelers and are spending more on precautions, such as cancellable transportation and travel insurance.

    • Travelers 50-plus will likely outspend those 18–49 by almost double ($4,930).

Work and Jobs

As COVID-19 continues to impact today's economy, workers are making decisions about work, their career, working from home vs. working in-person, caregiving, and whether they want to continue working or stop working altogether.

  • According to an AARP survey of adults age 50-plus on the Great Resignation, the top reason for leaving or considering leaving was being near retirement age. Not surprisingly, the pandemic played a major role — about two in five (38%) who had retired, left a job, or considered leaving a job wouldn’t have done so had it not been for the pandemic. One in five retired earlier than planned because of the pandemic.

  • Pull factors seem to be stronger than push factors for seeking or finding a new job. Many left or considered leaving a job because they believed they could find a job with better pay and benefits, better alignment with their passions, opportunity for growth, and flexibility. 

  • The biggest struggles in working from home are less about technology and setting up a home office and more about work–life balance. Despite some difficulties, workers who have been able to work from home during the pandemic would overwhelmingly prefer to keep working remotely (77%).

One in five adults age 50-plus has experienced an employment disruption during the pandemic (defined as a reduction in work hours, a reduction in salary or pay, being furloughed or laid off, or losing a job).

  • Three in 10 adults ages 50–64 (30%) have had such a disruption, compared to just one in 10 adults age 65-plus (11%).
  • Black adults (30%) and Hispanic adults (24%) are more likely than White adults (18%) to have experienced such a disruption.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had widespread impact on midcareer and older women workers.

  • As of June 2021, about 40% of women workers ages 40–65 had experienced at least one job interruption since the beginning of 2020. 

  • Of those who were unemployed as of June 2021, 70% had been out of work for six months or more. Those workers who were employed were concerned about the future and unemployment. 

  • Providing care to others can have implications for working women ages 40–65. Nearly three in 10 took care of a child or grandchild who was home during COVID-19 for remote schooling.  As a result, many women could only work certain shifts or hours rather than working full time. More than two in five women were either caring for an adult family member or friend, or a child or grandchild who was out of school.