Especially during the COVID pandemic, many seniors have experienced more mental health issues as they have become more isolated while trying to protect themselves from getting the virus.
Before the pandemic, the World Health Organization estimated that 20% of people over 60 suffered from a mental or neurological disorder. Instead of dying from COVID, many seniors have passed away from mental health issues as they have become isolated during the pandemic. Increased risk of falling, decreased ability to ambulate, acceleration of dementia and reduced strength are often observed in seniors with mental health disorders. Numerous healthcare frontline workers have noticed a rapid decline during the pandemic.
Dementia and Depression
Many seniors have experienced increased problems with dementia during the 10 months of isolation. Ahead of the pandemic, the World Health Organization already estimated that 5-to7% of seniors suffered from dementia or depression. Changes in routines necessitated by the pandemic have been particularly hard for these adults. People who became socially isolated increased their risk of developing dementia by 50%. Many who already had dementia saw a much faster decline in their mental status than expected.
According to the World Health Organization, about 3.8% of seniors ahead of COVID suffered from anxiety disorders. According to peer-reviewed research published in the September 2020 issue of The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, seniors’ rate of anxiety has risen to between 8.3%-and-49.7% since March 2020. Many seniors who suffer from an anxiety disorder suffer an increased risk of a physical disability, more memory issues, and a higher risk of death. Anxiety disorders are seldom seen alone but are accompanied by increased depression, dysthymia, bipolar disorder and substance abuse.
A prevalent but often overlooked problem among seniors is substance abuse. The WHO estimated that about 1% of seniors suffered from a substance abuse mental health problem before 2020. A major pre-COVID substance abuse problem for many seniors was opioid use. America was making in-roads into this issue before the pandemic started, but people have been using more opioids during the pandemic. According to the American Medical Association’s September Briefing, the use of opioids jumped from 29% to 42% in all age groups during April and May.
What Can You Do?
If you are the child of an older adult or have an elderly friend, then you must find a way to help them stay connected with people during this time while still mitigating the risk of COVID. Send a positive message to their phone regularly, help them learn to use FaceTime and Zoom to connect to important moments in the lives of their loved ones, or leave care packages on their porch. Ask them if they are content to continue to isolate or if they would like to get together with a small group of their friends. Respect their answer, realizing that isolation kills too. When necessary, consult a mental health provider for additional help.