Over One-Third of Seniors Won’t Go Maskless Till 2022: Survey

Data Journalist

Updated on June 2nd, 2021

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Over one-third (36%) of Americans age 65 and over aren’t comfortable taking off their masks in public until 2022 or later, and more than one in ten (12%) say they’ll never remove their masks.

MedicareGuide asked 500 senior Americans when they would feel comfortable resuming everyday activities as the COVID-19 pandemic begins to ease.

We also assessed how the pandemic affected seniors’ wellbeing, and what strategies they employed to cope with it.

The data shows that despite rising vaccination rates, many elderly Americans continue to take measures to prevent the spread of infection.

On the positive side, over one-half (56%) of over 65s are comfortable shopping indoors now or by spring’s end, and nearly one-half (46%) comfortable drinking and dining. 

Most Comfortable Resuming 

  • Traveling by car (49%)
  • Outdoor activities (48%)
  • Shopping indoors (41%)
  • Going to a beauty salon/spa (38%)
  • Hugging someone close (34%)

Least Comfortable Resuming 

  • Enjoying live entertainment (14%) 
  • Not wearing a mask in public (15%)
  • Traveling by plane, train or bus (16%)
  • Working out in a gym (17%)
  • Family gathering of more than 10 (27%) 

Coping Strategies to Boost Wellbeing

Our survey shows that elderly Americans are more likely than the general population to work to reduce the risk of disease transmission. 

Over one-half (55%) of respondents cited practicing good hygiene as a measure that helped their wellbeing during the pandemic. 

That compares to just 46% of the general population

Top Five Activities that Helped Wellbeing

  • Practicing good hygiene (55%)
  • Staying connected socially (50%)
  • Enjoying online entertainment such as streaming (39%)
  • Outdoor activities (38%)
  • Practicing hobbies (34%)

Reflecting the importance of maintaining a social life for the elderly, 50% of seniors said staying connected with friends and family helped them cope, compared to only 44% of the general population. 

Screen Overload and Other Harms

Americans age 65 and over turned to a number of harmful negative coping strategies during the pandemic.

At 43% of respondents, excessive screen time topped the list. This was followed by over-eating or food restrictions (36%), excessive sleeping (18%), and compulsive online shopping and drug, tobacco or alcohol use, tied at 12%.

Top Five Negative Coping Strategies

  • Excessive screen time (43%)
  • Over-eating or food restrictions (36%)
  • Excessive sleeping (18%)
  • Compulsive online shopping (12%)
  • Drug, tobacco, caffeine or alcohol use (12%)

Other elderly respondents cited negative coping strategies such as excessive scratching, or going online and putting things in their cart but never buying anything.

Drug, tobacco or alcohol use haven’t been as much a problem for the elderly as the general public. 

12% of over 65s cited problematic drug, tobacco or alcohol use during the pandemic, compared to 17% of the general population.

Worried for Friends and Family

Concern for friends and family topped the list of harmful effects to wellbeing cited by over 65s.

Over six in ten (63%) of senior Americans said concern for friends and family caused by the pandemic harmed their wellbeing. That compares to only 57% of the general population. 

Other harms to older Americans’ wellbeing caused by the pandemic include isolation (43%), lack of exercise and anxiety – both 38% – and depression (28%).

“The pandemic impacted seniors the most heavily, and many of them couldn’t meet loved ones for long periods,” notes Jeff Smedsrud, a cofounder of MedicareGuide parent company HealthCare.com. “It’s not surprising they would cite concern for friends and family and isolation as their leading harms.”

A number of respondents also cited lingering effects from long-haul Covid such as loss of taste, bouts of dizziness, and brain fog.

Some spoke of social harms, such as resentment toward those who wouldn’t take health precautions and rifts between themselves and people in their community.

Regional Variation

Seniors in different parts of the country have different comfort levels with certain activities of normal life. 

17% of residents of South Atlantic states including the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida are already comfortable not wearing a mask in public. 

That compares to only 12% of respondents in Pacific states like California and Washington, and 14% of respondents in West South Central states like Texas and Louisiana. 

Similarly, 21% of South Atlantic residents, also encompassing Virginia and Maryland, are already comfortable traveling by plane, train or bus, but only 15% of folks in Pacific states, which also include Oregon, Hawaii and Alaska, and 14% in the West South Central region.

Methodology: MedicareGuide conducted this survey utilizing a SurveyMonkey Audience on April 21-22, 2021, among a national sample of 518 U.S. adults. The modeled error estimate for this survey is plus or minus 4.0 percentage points. The sample was balanced for age, gender, and U.S. Region according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

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