Along with physical health challenges, older adults also face many mental health challenges. Unfortunately, families and caregivers focused on physical health may overlook caring for the mental health for seniors. But paying attention to mental health for elderly loved ones is essential for overall well-being.
That’s especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic. The novel coronavirus has hit seniors especially hard. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults 65 and older account for nearly 80% of deaths from COVID-19.
To protect seniors early in the pandemic, the CDC advised limiting contact with the elderly. The biggest concern was seniors in nursing homes or with underlying health conditions. And some older adults quarantined alone for fear of becoming ill.
For many older adults, quarantine means increased loneliness and isolation. In addition, many have lost family and friends during the pandemic, adding to their grief.
Their mental health has suffered as a result. A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that pandemic stress negatively impacted the mental health of 46% of adults over 65.
Mental Health Risks for Older Adults
- Hospitalization increases depression risk. According to the CDC, 11.5% of hospitalized older adults have depression.
- Relying on home health care can increase depression. Rates of depression in the elderly who require home health care are even higher — 13.5%.
- Underlying health conditions impact many elderly adults and can exacerbate depression. According to the CDC, around 80% of older adults have one chronic illness. And 50% have two or more chronic conditions.
- Depression in the elderly often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as a normal reaction to aging, illness, or medication.
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Signs of Depression in Older Adults
It’s important to look for signs of depression in older adults. Because it’s not always clear, watch for these signs in yourself and loved ones:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness, or helplessness.
- Loss of self-worth, such as feeling like they’re a burden to others.
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies they once enjoyed.
- Irritability and restlessness.
- Feeling very tired or having decreased energy.
- Difficulty working or concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions.
- Sleep problems, including difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, waking up too early, or sleeping too much.
- Unintended changes in appetite and weight.
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs.
- Ongoing aches and pains, such as headaches, cramps, or stomach problems without a known cause or that don’t get better with treatment.
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts, or self-harm.
Helping Older Adults During the Pandemic
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues, there are things you can do to protect seniors’ mental health. There are several ways you can support older adults during the pandemic:
- Keep in touch. Even if you can’t visit, call as often as you can to check in and let your elderly friends and family know you care.
- Find other ways for them to stay socially connected. Digital platforms, such as virtual get-togethers, can provide connection while staying safe. However, many older adults need help with digital tools, so be patient.
- Help them to maintain a healthy lifestyle while in quarantine. Make sure older adults have safe access to nutritious food, basic supplies, money, and medicine.
- Share accurate information and resources on how to stay physically and mentally healthy.
- Provide clear directions on what to do if they become sick.
Getting Mental Health Help for Older Adults
Medicare covers mental health care for older adults who need it. But some seniors find it difficult to afford the cost-sharing or have trouble finding a provider that will take their insurance.
Some seniors can feel nervous about going to see a provider face-to-face during the pandemic. You can help reassure them that guidelines require health care facilities to have COVID-19 safety measures in place.
You can also help them set up a telehealth visit with a mental health professional. In response to COVID-19, Medicare expanded mental health services to include coverage of telehealth mental services.
Older Adults and Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. Link.
Older Adults and Mental Health. National Institute of Mental Health. Link.
Older Adults and COVID-19 Pandemic: Resilience Matters. July -August , 2020. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics. Link.
One in Four Adults Report Anxiety and Depression Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic. Oct. 9, 2020. KFF. Link.
Depression is Not a Normal Part of Growing Older. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.
Supporting Older People During the Pandemic is Everyone's Business. WHO. Link.
Medicare and your mental health benefits. Medicare.gov. Link
COVID-19 Deaths Among Older Adults During the Delta Surge Were Higher in States with Lower Vaccination Rates. Oct. 1, 2021. Kaiser Family Foundation. Link.
About Senior Communities
Seniors have different needs as they age, and they may want or need a community that can help with those needs. Whether you seek independent living, assisted living, or skilled nursing and rehabilitation, UPMC Senior Communities has an option. We provide advanced treatments, preventive care, and wellness options from expert physicians, nurses, and staff. We also offer activities and living communities that can provide an enjoyable experience for our residents. Visit our UPMC Senior Communities website to learn more about the options available.