COVID-19 pushed older people into severe mental health problems; Study

By Amirtha P S, Desk Reporter
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The COVID-19 pandemic has created a notable impact on the mental health of people, especially adults living in the community, according to new research from Canada’s McMaster University.

In the study, published in the journal Nature Aging, a national team of researchers found that 43 percent 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 significant predictor of worsening depressive symptoms, with other pandemic-related stressors, such as family conflict, also increasing the odds.

The research was led by Mr. Parminder Raina, a professor in the Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact and scientific director of the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging and lead principal investigator of the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA).

“Those who were socially isolated, experiencing poorer health and of lower socioeconomic status were more likely to have worsening depression as compared to their pre-pandemic depression status collected as part of the CLSA since 2011,” said Prof. Raina.

The research team included CLSA principal investigators Ms. Christina Wolfson of McGill University, Ms. Susan Kirkland of Dalhousie University, Ms. Lauren Griffith of McMaster, along with a national team of investigators.

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

Caregiving responsibilities, separation from family, conflict, and loneliness were associated with a greater likelihood of moderate or high levels of depressive symptoms that got worse over time.

When compared to men, women were more likely to have higher odds of depressive symptoms 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,” Prof. Raina added.

The findings mark the first published COVID-19 research emerging from the CLSA, a national research platform on aging involving more than 50,000 community-dwelling middle-aged and older adults at recruitment. The platform is funded by the Government of Canada through and Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

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