From the onset of the pandemic, individuals in late adulthood (65 years and older) were confirmed to be at greater risk for severe illness and death resulting from COVID-19 compared to their younger counterparts (CDC, 2020; Shahid et al., 2020; Cox, 2020). In addition, Black/African Americans were also found to be disproportionately at risk of severe illness, and death, from COVID-19, especially when compared to white Americans (CDC, 2020). The disproportionate risk and impact of COVID-19 on older adults and communities of color required a focused look at their experiences. The study examined behavioral adaptation and general coping experienced by adults in Canada and the United States (US) during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. More specifically, using a subsample, the study explored the intersecting experiences of older adults who identify as Black/African American to those who do not.
This study involved an anonymous, cross sectional online survey. The survey consisted of thirty researcher-constructed individual items, each measured on a six-point Likert-type scale. Each item asked respondents to indicate their level of agreement to statements concerning the COVID-19 outbreak. Data were collected in June 2020 and targeted adults living in Canada and the US. A subsample of 383 older adults (60 or older) from Canada and the US responded to this survey, of which 17 identified as Black or African American. The average age of the older adult subsample was 67.02 (sd= 5.82). The vast majority of older adults identified as female, and White.
When the responses of older adult were examined using t-test analyses, Black older adult respondents were less likely than non-Black older adult respondents to agree that they felt prepared for the COVID-19 outbreak. Black older adults were more likely than non-Black older adults to agree that they were personally affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, and to agree that they had financial challenges as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. A three-stage hierarchical multiple regression analysis was conducted to determine the impact of race on the level of agreement in the older adult subsample with the statement “I felt prepared for the COVID-19 outbreak” when other factors were controlled for. A total of six factors (i.e. race, age, education, political ideology, financial challenges and transportation challenges) were entered in the final model. With all factors controlled for in the final model, race was the only significant predictor; Black older adult respondents felt less prepared for the COVID-19 outbreak, than all other respondents.
The results of this study provided important insight into the experiences and adaptability of older Black/African American adults as compared to non-Black/African American older adults as they incorporated life-saving adjustments to behavior during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings are an important step in identifying policy and practice suggestions to reduce negative repercussions for older adults experiencing the current crisis, as well as future generations of older adults who might experience another similar event. The results also highlight the continued disparities between White and non-White older adults.