Racial and socioeconomic status differences in stress, posttraumatic growth, and mental health in an older adult cohort during the COVID-19 pandemic

Brea Willey, Kayden Mimmack, Geoffroy Gagliardi, Michelle L. Dossett, Sharon Wang, Onyinye J. Udeogu, Nancy J. Donovan, Jennifer R. Gatchel, Yakeel T. Quiroz, Rebecca Amariglio, Cindy H. Liu, Sunah Hyun, Abdelrahman ElTohamy, Dorene Rentz, Reisa A. Sperling, Gad A. Marshall, Patrizia Vannini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted the most vulnerable and widened the health disparity gap in both physical and mental well-being. Consequentially, it is vital to understand how to best support elderly individuals, particularly Black Americans and people of low socioeconomic status, in navigating stressful situations during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. The aim of this study was to investigate perceived levels of stress, posttraumatic growth, coping strategies, socioeconomic status, and mental health between Black and non-Hispanic, White older adults, the majority over the age of 70. Additionally, we investigated which variables, if any, were associated with posttraumatic growth in these populations. Methods: One hundred seventy-six community dwelling older adults (mean age = 76.30 ±8.94), part of two observational studies (The Harvard Aging Brain Study and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living Study) in Massachusetts, US, were included in this cross-sectional study. The survey, conducted from March 23, 2021 to May 13, 2021, measured perceived stress, behavioral coping strategies, posttraumatic growth, and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. We investigated associations with post-traumatic growth in a multiple linear regression model and examined their differences by race with t-tests, Wilcoxon rank-sum tests, and Fisher's exact tests. A second multiple linear regression model was used to examine which coping strategies were associated with posttraumatic growth. Findings: Our results indicated no significant difference between the groups in terms of mental health or stress. However, Black participants showed significantly greater posttraumatic growth compared to non-Hispanic, White participants. Additionally, the coping strategies of religion and positive reframing were found to be significantly associated with posttraumatic growth. Furthermore, even with the effects of stress and coping strategies controlled for, race remained significantly associated with posttraumatic growth. Interpretation: The COVID-19 pandemic has differentially impacted Black and non-Hispanic White older adults. These results may help encourage further analysis on geriatric psychiatry as well as understanding how cultural values and adaptations impact posttraumatic growth and mental health in diverse populations. Funding: The Harvard Aging Brain Study (HABS) has been funded by NIH-NIA P01 AG036694 (PI: Reisa Sperling). The IADL study is funded by the National Institute on Aging (R01 AG053184, PI: Gad A. Marshall).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101343
StatePublished - Mar 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Aging
  • Coping strategies
  • COVID-19
  • Geriatrics
  • Mental health
  • Pandemic
  • Posttraumatic growth
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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