Methods: A systematic search identified 115 articles in which older adults and young adults were quoted related to the COVID-19 issues published in four major newspapers in the U.S. (USA Today, The New York Times, The LA Times, and The Washington Post) between March 11 and April 10, 2020. Using content and thematic analysis, we examined patterns in topics and experiences described within quotes from older adults and younger individuals, as well as comparing patterns across the two groups.
Results: 265 quotes were identified in The LA Times (n = 79, 30%), The Washington Post (n = 75, 28%), USA Today (n = 57, 22%), and The NY Times (n = 54, 20%). Both older adults and young adults reported the negative impacts on older adults due to the pandemic, such as a lack of resources to protect older adults as well as negative emotions including frustration, anger, grief, and fear. They also described older adults as a vulnerable population to COVID-19 and implicitly expressed ageism such as degrading the value of an older adults’ life. Older adults described sources of resiliency due to past experiences with adversity and some described a loss of their imagined later life due to COVID-19, such as through the loss of socialization, opportunities to travel, and ability to enjoy one’s retirement. Among younger individuals, family caregivers were among those most quoted, often citing caregiving dilemmas such as making decisions regarding an older loved one’s physical safety versus their social wellbeing.
Conclusions and Implication: Representations of older adults have been frequent and repetitive during the COVID-19 crisis and these narratives have the potential to influence our framing and understandings of later life for years to come, given the long-lasting and poignant nature of the pandemic’s influence. This study provides the opportunity to understand different perspectives on older adults and later life and to compare how older adults speak about their own experiences to how they are constructed by others. The findings have implications for how we construct narratives of later life and aging experiences in public and scholarly discourses as well as in roles of policymakers and care service providers.