To investigate early effects of the COVID-19 pandemic related to (a) levels of worry, risk perception, and social distancing; (b) longitudinal effects on well-being; and (c) effects of worry, risk perception, and social distancing on well-being.
We analyzed annual changes in four aspects of well-being over 5 years (2015-2020): life satisfaction, financial satisfaction, self-rated health, and loneliness in a subsample (n = 1,071, aged 65-71) from a larger survey of Swedish older adults. The 2020 wave, collected March 26-April 2, included measures of worry, risk perception, and social distancing in response to COVID-19.
(a) In relation to COVID-19: 44.9% worried about health, 69.5% about societal consequences, 25.1% about financial consequences; 86.4% perceived a high societal risk, 42.3% a high risk of infection, and 71.2% reported high levels of social distancing. (b) Well-being remained stable (life satisfaction and loneliness) or even increased (self-rated health and financial satisfaction) in 2020 compared to previous years. (c) More worry about health and financial consequences was related to lower scores in all four well-being measures. Higher societal worry and more social distancing were related to higher well-being.
In the early stage of the pandemic, Swedish older adults on average rated their well-being as high as, or even higher than, previous years. However, those who worried more reported lower well-being. Our findings speak to the resilience, but also heterogeneity, among older adults during the pandemic. Further research, on a broad range of health factors and long-term psychological consequences, is needed.