Research project to study the impact of COVID fear

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Eldery man wearing a mask

A multi-disciplinary team of researchers at the University of Stirling is launching a new study to consider how the fear of COVID-19 is impacting the lives of the over-50s, after receiving a major funding grant.

Dr Elaine Douglas, a lecturer in global ageing at the University of Stirling, has been awarded £712,000 from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19, for an 18-month study entitled “The impact of COVID-19 Fear: evidence to inform social, health and economic recovery”.

The unique research project – which will be the first of its kind to measure the extent to which concern about COVID-19 impacts everyday lives – will survey people aged 50 years and over in Scotland to establish how the pandemic is influencing their decisions to socialise, visit family and attend medical appointments. Researchers will also explore the extent fear will play in people’s decision to get vaccinated against the virus.

The research is a new wave of the Healthy Ageing in Scotland (HAGIS) study, set up by Dr Douglas and economist Professor David Bell, which follows older people over time, collecting data on their health, economic and social circumstances.

Dr Elaine Douglas
Dr Elaine Douglas
Lecturer in global ageing
COVID-19 has affected the way in which people connect, look after their health, work and spend. However, little is known about the role that COVID-19 fear plays in how people go about their everyday lives, particularly among older people, who are arguably most vulnerable to poor outcomes.

Dr Douglas said: “Our research will look at how people re-engage with society over the year ahead and provide insights for policy and public health messages.”

Dr Douglas will work alongside Professor Bell on this new project, as well as Stirling colleagues: economist Dr Dave Comerford, social scientists Dr Louise McCabe, Dr Alison Dawson and Dr Cate Pemble, and health psychologist, Dr Lesley McGregor. The study will produce regular rapid reports and policy briefings throughout its duration, with initial data due to be published in summer 2021.

Dr Douglas added: “This research will provide insight into how people can be supported back into everyday activities. It will provide important information for the NHS on how to support those with COVID-19 fear to attend hospital appointments, cancer screenings or other health related appointments.

“It will also give an idea of people’s willingness to return to the ‘physical’ workplace, to go shopping again, or to meet friends in restaurants. These activities are significant for our individual wellbeing as well as our economic recovery.”