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The Long Road of Long COVID

An Exploratory Survey of Adults Age 50-Plus

Many Americans over age 50 have been hard hit by the pandemic: A new AARP survey finds nearly three in ten have had COVID and many have suffered lingering effects without seeking medical attention.

The national poll conducted in late March reflects the varying toll of the virus.

The poll found that 66% of older adults infected with the virus had moderate to severe symptoms, and 6% were hospitalized; 6% had no symptoms. Women more than men reported severe symptoms, and there also were differences by race and ethnicity. Significantly more older Latino individuals (50%) got COVID than their white (29%) and Black (10%) counterparts, and people of multiple races (21%), according to AARP. Infection rates were higher for those ages 50–64 (34%) compared to adults 65 and over (23%).

Three-quarters of adults over age 50 who had symptomatic COVID continued experiencing effects after the typical one to two week period, at least to a small extent. Most common were fatigue, cough, and cognitive problems such as brain fog. Most adults (60%) did not see a physician to address their ongoing COVID-related symptoms.

Dealing with long-term COVID translated into hardship on the job for about one-third of those surveyed. Some respondents said they had to quarantine without pay or reduce their work hours. Yet, about half said lingering symptoms had no impact on their employment.

Vaccination protection played a big role in who got sick.

Of adults 50+ who had COVID, 58% were not vaccinated at the time of infection. Another 25% had some vaccine protection, and 18% were fully vaccinated and boosted, the AARP results show. Americans age 65 and over are more likely to have been fully vaccinated (75%) than those ages 50–64 (58%). Vaccination status among older adults is highest in the Black community (79%), followed by white (64%) and Latino people (59%).  

Peak transmission was in the past six months, when 51% of respondents said they tested positive; 63% said they became infected within the last year.

To better understand the relationship between COVID and access to health care, the AARP report suggests more research is needed into why more individuals with lingering COVID-19 effects did not seek medical attention. While the majority of age 50-plus people said they are at least somewhat familiar with "long COVID," one in five are not familiar at all with the term.

Methodology

The survey of 1,018 adults age 50 and older was conducted for AARP by NORC at the University of Chicago. The nationally representative and balanced sample of Americans was reached by telephone and online March 24–28, 2022.

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

Suggested citation:

Mehegan, Laura. The Long Road of Long COVID: An Exploratory Survey of Adults Age 50-Plus. Washington, DC: AARP Research, May 2022. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00542.001

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