For more than a year, many older adults have remained largely isolated because of the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the reopening of large sections of the economy because of the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, the toll of the pandemic on the mental health of the elderly shows few signs of abating. “The more time passes with the world vulnerable to COVID-19, the more acute the mental health challenges become for older adults, some of whom are reluctant to get back into society and socialize with other people,” said Pride PHC Vice-President Andy Cruz. Here are three reasons why returning to socializing is so important for the mental health of senior citizens.
#1 Lack of socialization affects the body
When we socialize with other people, we are usually not sedentary. That movement may mean engaging in some type of physical activity or even something as simple as getting out of a chair for a hug. A Wiley Online Library study found the pandemic may not only lead to a higher risk of mortality but also a higher frailty among older adults, because of a reduction of physical activity as the pandemic grew in duration.
“We know during the pandemic that physical activity decreased greatly for most people, but for our seniors that was especially the case,” said Cruz. “With physical health having a direct impact on mental health, the study shows if seniors are vaccinated, it is worth the very minor risk of contracting COVID-19, for them to socialize with other vaccinated members of society, especially their loved ones.”
#2 Fewer seniors are seeking mental support
Once the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the U.S. fewer people were found to be reaching our for mental health support, according to a survey released by AARP. The survey found that 77 percent of those 50 years of age or older said the pandemic increased their level of concern about the future, 69 percent had an increased level of depression, and 68 percent had an increased level of anxiety. But at the same time only about one in seven older adults said the experience of the pandemic would increase their likelihood to seek help from a mental health provider.
“Seeking help for your mental health may be one of the first steps for a senior to take to understand the impact of COVID on their mind, body, and soul,” said Cruz. “And it could be one of the most important steps toward returning to mainstream society.”
#3 Seniors may need an extra push to get back to socializing
As more people become vaccinated, the reluctance of those to socialize continues to lessen. But for seniors that may not be happening as quickly as the rest of the population. According to Michigan Health, a recent poll of those between the ages of 50 and 80 found that just under half of respondents, 46 percent, feel isolated, which is down from 56 percent in a similar poll taken at the same time about one year prior in the spring of 2020, but it is still up 28 percent from before the pandemic.
“This poll shows us that older members of society want to get back into socializing with others, but may need a little bit of help getting there,” said Cruz. Caregivers and loved ones of those who are vaccinated should talk to the seniors in their care and have an open conversation about the benefits and risks of reentering society, to make sure all information is understood and the decisions made reflect the beliefs of the older adults in their care. .
These examples are just a few in a mountain of proof that the mental health of seniors affected by the pandemic can be reversed. They just need the help of those who care for them to guide them and make sure they make the best decisions for their mental and physical health.