During the current pandemic over the last one year, elderly people experienced disproportionately greater adverse effects from the pandemic including more severe complications, higher mortality, concerns about disruptions to their daily routines and access to care, difficulty in adapting to technologies like tele-medicine, and concerns that isolation would exacerbate existing mental health conditions. More than a year into the pandemic, the effects are showing and starting to take a toll on the elderly but there are positive takeaways too as found in a survey.
Uncertainty and fear caused by the surge in cases of COVID-19 cases over the past few months and the resultant fatalities have had a major impact on the mental health of senior citizens. But despite this, a survey by Samvedna Senior Care also found that a noticeable shift was observed with older adults talking about the benefits of attending online mental wellness sessions.
Clinical psychologist Dr Jayashree Dasgupta, co-founder and project director, Samvedna Senior Care said, “Although awareness about mental health issues remains low, it is heartening to see that older adults are becoming more open and talking about the challenges they face. Tele mental health programs specifically targeting older adults will play an important role in de-stigmatising seeking help for mental health issues whilst providing much needed emotional support during this pandemic.”
The outbreak of pandemic proportions has posed numerous compulsions on individuals, like indefinite stay indoors or visits away from home and loved ones. Stress resulting from these impositions has led to an array of mental health issues other than the tangibly seen physical illnesses.
The onslaught of the first wave of the COVID pandemic caused the country to shut down to protect its citizens. To curb the deadly virus, a nationwide lock-down was implemented for approximately three months in 2020. Now, on the heels of the devastating second wave, we see an ebb, although slight, in the number of new cases. The second wave has led to a strain on the heavily unprepared healthcare system and has given rise to more fatalities. With the rise in the number of COVID-related fatalities, older adults are experiencing more mental health problems such as depression and health-related anxiety.
The First Wave
As part of an ongoing community engagement initiative with older adults, Samvedna Senior Care had previously conducted a survey with adults aged (40 years and above) during the first wave of the pandemic to understand the impact of the lock-down, and the coping strategies they found useful.
Respondents were given a mental health screener in which 66% self-reported at least two health concerns that may warrant further evaluation. 86% of these individuals reported experiencing significant low mood and 83% said they found it difficult to find meaning in their daily activities and enjoy themselves. 58% also reported feeling under constant strain due to the lock-down and 33% reported having sleep difficulties.
Those who were trying to work from home reported feeling more strain than others as they were also concerned about financial difficulties and loss of income. Amongst other concerns that majorly impacted older adults during lock-down were concerns about the health and well-being of family members (57%) and personal health (28%). The strain of managing additional household work without adequate support, and overall difficulty in getting necessities were also problems highlighted by over one-third of respondents. 13% also reported an increase in family conflicts during the lock-down which impacted their sense of well-being.
Although 63% of respondents felt that speaking with friends and family about their worries would be helpful, only 22% mentioned considering speaking with a mental health professional. This highlights that the willingness of older adults to seek professional mental health support for themselves was incredibly low during the first wave of the pandemic.
The Second Wave
About 33% of respondents contacted again during the second wave, reported feeling depressed. The primary concern remained unchanged—the health and well-being of friends and family. However, they highlighted increased fears about family members with co-morbidities contracting the virus, and reported difficulties managing emotional well-being, and faced challenges in helping younger family members manage their routines and follow basic COVID protocols.
A positive shift was noted over the past year with older adults talking about the importance of mental health and well-being. A noticeable shift was observed with their talking about the benefits of attending online mental wellness sessions and practicing yoga and or meditation.
Although as recently as a year ago, seniors were not as tech-savvy, this shift indicates a growing comfort with support via tele-health which is clearly the way forward and sheds light on a greater need for leveraging technology to support the emotional well-being of older adults during the lock-down and COVID restrictions.
When asked about what will be helpful during the lock-down, a gentleman, age 83, interviewed mentioned, “If you have somebody who is there to check up on you, or contact you through WhatsApp and tell you that it’s ok, that will help older people a lot… Every individual needs some support group so that they are not in isolation. Just to keep an eye.”
Another, senior citizen, mentioned, “One thing that needs to be done very strongly is that older adults have to be told to remain positive, that would greatly help, and not to worry too much. You have to maintain your positive outlook.”
How to address this situation
1)A well-balanced diet, regular physical activity and a positive attitude plays a major role.
2) Adequate awareness through the right sources will cause less panic and unnecessary anxiety. Social connectedness plays a major role for those who are not tech savvy. Emotional support through friends will also help.
3)Medical advice through tele-consultations and tele-counselling on a regular basis will also play an important role in keeping anxiety levels low.
4)Physically being active also helps in creating positive emotions. Hence, exercises with awareness such as Yoga and Tai Chi have been great tools to overcome mental health challenges.
Here is what you can do
for the elderly. In case you need any help, please contact COVID-19 psycho social toll-free helpline at 080-46110007 or consult your doctor or mental health professional.