Pandemic depression persists in older people

Credit: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay.

In a new study from McMaster University, researchers found the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the mental health of older people living in the community, with those who are lonely faring far worse.

They used data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA) and found that 43% of adults aged 50 or older experienced moderate or high levels of depressive symptoms at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that increased over time.

Loneliness was the most important predictor of worsening depressive symptoms, with other pandemic-related stressors, such as family conflict, also increasing the odds.

In the study, the team used telephone and web survey data to examine how health-related factors and social determinants impacted the prevalence of depressive symptoms during the initial lockdown starting March 2020 and after re-opening following the first wave of COVID-19 in Canada.

They found caregiving responsibilities, separation from family, family conflict, and loneliness were linked to a greater likelihood of moderate or high levels of depressive symptoms that got worse over time.

Women were also more likely to have higher odds of depressive symptoms during the pandemic compared to men, and a greater number of women reported separation from family, increased time caregiving as well as barriers to caregiving.

Overall, older adults had twice the odds of depressive symptoms during the pandemic compared to pre-pandemic.

But those with lower income and poorer health, either due to pre-existing health conditions or health concerns reported during the pandemic, experienced a greater impact.

These findings suggest the negative mental health impacts of the pandemic persist and may worsen over time and underscores the need for tailored interventions to address pandemic stressors and alleviate their impact on the mental health of older adults.

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The study is published in Nature Aging. One author of the study is Parminder Raina.

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