By Dr. Venkatesh Babu G. M.
The last two years have not only been difficult; many people have lost loved ones. The coronavirus outbreaks that swept across India and the world had the greatest impact on the elderly and those with co-morbidities. During the coronavirus pandemic, the elderly faced both physical and mental health issues. According to Antara’s ‘State of Seniors survey,’ 57% of seniors aged 60 and up experienced mental health issues during COVID-19.
A recent study on the availability of emotional and physical support among the elder population over the age of 55 conducted by the International Longevity Centre (ILC) India revealed a significant increase in depression due to survivor’s guilt and a corresponding struggle to overcome loneliness by engaging in activities and forming support circles with peers going through similar circumstances.
In almost every country dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak, older people are being advised to self-quarantine and isolate themselves from other people who may infect them. One common practice in long-term care facilities is to prohibit visits from family members and friends in order to reduce the risk of virus transmission. While these restrictions are understandable in this time of crisis, they may have a significant negative impact on the mental health of older adults, such as social isolation and loneliness.
Fear of Covid-19 amongst Seniors:
A growing body of evidence shows that social isolation has a negative impact on people’s health and well-being. Fear was unavoidable as more people became infected, hospitalized, and died as a result of the deadly virus.
The most common and important factor contributing to the rise in mental health concerns among seniors was fear of infection, with 66% of them experiencing trauma. Seniors experienced social isolation as a result of their fear of infection and anxiety caused by COVID-19. Social isolation and loneliness are now widely acknowledged as major public health and policy issues for seniors.
In addition to concerns about their safety, seniors’ access to basic healthcare facilities, groceries, and medicines, among other things, was strained. During the second wave, seniors experienced more mental health problems such as depression and health-related anxiety.
Social isolation and loneliness have been linked to poor physical and mental health status in studies, including our own: increased blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, impaired immune system functioning, depression, anxiety, poorer cognitive functioning, increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and mortality. Social isolation has been linked to a 50% increase in the risk of developing dementia, a 29% increase in the risk of incident coronary heart disease, and a 32% increase in the risk of stroke.
Seniors’ concerns following the COVID-19 pandemic:
The primary concerns for seniors in the post-pandemic world are avoiding serious illnesses and maintaining health. The majority of seniors chose to follow a self-monitored balanced diet, while some relied on home remedies rather than seeking professional help.
Adults were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, including more severe complications, higher mortality, concerns about disruptions to their daily routines and access to care, difficulty adapting to technologies such as telemedicine, and fears that isolation would exacerbate existing mental health conditions. Although older adults have lower stress reactivity and, in general, better emotional regulation and well-being than younger adults, there was concern about a mental health crisis among older adults given the scale and magnitude of the pandemic. The worry was for older people at home and in residential care facilities, where contact with friends, family, and caregivers had become limited. The preliminary data point to a much more nuanced picture indicating that, contrary to popular belief, older adults may be more resilient to the anxiety, depression, and stress-related mental health disorders that plague younger populations during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
How to Cope:
The COVID-19 outbreak will have a long-term and profound impact on the health and well-being of older adults worldwide. Social isolation and loneliness are likely to become major risk factors affecting the health outcomes of older adults. Many countries can implement some strategies to address these issues. These strategies include raising awareness among the health care workforce and the general public about the health and medical consequences of social isolation and loneliness; developing innovative technology-based interventions to mobilise resources from family members, community-based networks, and resources that address social isolation and loneliness in older adults; and involving the health care system in the process of developing methods to identify social isolation and loneliness.
(The author is a Consultant in Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences at Fortis Hospital, Bannerghatta Road. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of FinancialExpress.com.)