Older adults facing greater depression during pandemic

New York: As mental health issues become a big burden in the ongoing global health crisis, researchers say that older adults experienced greater depression and loneliness during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"What we found is the pandemic was associated with worse mental health outcomes for many older adults," study author Anne Krendl from Indiana University in the US, said in a paper published in the Journal of Gerontology: Series B.

The research team examined whether social isolation due to the Covid-19 shelter-in-place orders was associated with greater loneliness and greater depression for older adults, and, if so, whether declines in social engagement or relationship strength moderated that relationship.

Researchers compared personal social networks, subjective loneliness and depression of 93 older adults in the Bloomington community, six to nine months prior to the pandemic and from late April to late May when most people were under stay-at-home orders.

Two-thirds (68 per cent) of older adults reported spending less time than before with people they loved, according to the study, and 79 per cent felt like their social life decreased or was negatively affected by Covid-19.

However, 60 per cent reported spending somewhat or much more time reconnecting or catching up with people they cared about and 78 per cent were using some form of internet technology to keep in touch during the pandemic.

On average, older adults reported spending about 76 minutes socialising virtually or over the phone each day. "Although prior research has shown that people in this age group are not avid users of social media, the pandemic seems to have moved the needle, with more older people relying on social media to try to stay connected," Krendl said.

Research has shown that loneliness is associated with a number of negative outcomes for older adults, including higher rates of depression and higher mortality, while closeness to individuals in their networks can result in greater emotional well-being.

"Although older adults were relatively adaptable in staying connected during the pandemic, we found that adults who felt less close to their social network during the pandemic experienced increased depression," the study authors wrote.

"However, for older adults who felt closer to their social networks during the pandemic, depression only increased markedly for those who also had experienced a large increase in loneliness," they noted.

"But certainly, periods of mental health distress can have longer-term implications for health and well-being," Krendl said. Last week, a study published in the journal Sustainability, found that Covid-19 has severely affected people's daily lives and mental health, increasing their stress, fear of getting sick and financial strain.

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