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Elderly Adults Facing Greater Depression During COVID-19 Pandemic

It has been eight months now since the first confirmed case of Covid-19 was confirmed in the USA. People now have a complete picture of the extent of the pandemic, particularly in mental health. Researchers at Indiana University (IU) have confirmed that older adults experienced more significant 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,” lead author Anne Krendl, also an associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington said. “However, for some, having close social networks seemed to serve as a protector against negative mental health outcomes.” 

The findings are published in a paper in the Journal of Gerontology: Series B (Krendl et al., 2020). The article was co-authored by Brea Perry, a professor in the Department of Sociology at IU.

The research team examined if social isolation due to the Covid-19 shelter-in-place orders was related to more loneliness and depression for older adults and if declines in social engagement or relationship strength influenced the relationship if there was any.

The researchers compared personal social networks, subjective loneliness, and depression of 93 older adults in the Bloomington community, six to nine months before the pandemic (summer/fall 2019) and from late April to late May (2020) when most people were under stay-at-home orders.

According to the study, the majority of the participants (79.3%; N = 69) reported their social life decreased or negatively affected by Covid-19, and more than two-third (69.0%; N = 60) spent less time than before with people they loved. 

However, 60.9% (N=53) reported spending much more time reconnecting with people they cared about, and 78.2% (N = 68) were using the internet to keep in touch during the pandemic.

On average, the participants in the survey reported spending about 79 minutes socializing virtually or over the phone each day.

No gender effects emerged regarding depression or loneliness in the study.

‘Older adults who felt less close to their social network during the pandemic (vs prior to it) experienced increased depression irrespective of their loneliness’—wrote the authors. ‘However, for older adults who felt closer to their social networks during the pandemic (vs prior to it), depression only increased markedly for those who experienced a large increase in loneliness’.

longer life depression
Photo: Pixabay

“But certainly, periods of mental health distress can have longer-term implications for health and well-being,” Krendl said.

Another survey conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health also found Covid-19 pandemic significantly increased psychological distress among US adults—the results of the study were published in an article in JAMA (McGinty et al., 2020).

Related Publication and Further Readings

Krendl, A. C. and B. L. Perry (2020). “The impact of sheltering-in-place during the COVID-19 pandemic on older adults’ social and mental well-being.” J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci.

McGinty, E. E., R. Presskreischer, et al. (2020). “Psychological Distress and Loneliness Reported by US Adults in 2018 and April 2020.” JAMA 324(1): 93-94.

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