The Impact of Covid-19 on the Mental Health of the Elderly

Published On: September 25, 2020

When we look at the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of the elderly, it is easy to see social isolation, fear of sickness, and being denied in-person services as several of the top reasons for increased stress.

However, there is more to consider, such as the increase in crimes against the elderly, growing rates of anxiety and depression, and a decline in their ability to function.

Studies have shown that for those over 55 years of age, COVID-19 is three times more likely to be deadly if contracted.

The fear of dying and death related to the pandemic can easily lead to a lack of self-care, including following prescription medication instructions, which can have devastating physical and mental results. [4]

Even though more seniors than ever are dealing with mental health disorders, there is a stunning lack of psychological attention paid to this demographic.

It is hard to find therapy options for the elderly.  This is especially true with the current heavy reliance on telehealth, which may be difficult for individuals with little technology experience. [2]

Risk Factors for Mental Health Disorders in the Elderly

Some of the risk factors associated with the development of mental health disorders in people 60 years and older include the following.

  • Mental confusion caused by an illness such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc
  • Short and long-term physical illness
  • Chronic pain
  • Medication side-effects or interactions
  • A loss of mobility
  • Living in a hostile environment (e.g., experiencing caregiver abuse, being completely isolated, etc.)
  • Physical disability
  • Physical illnesses with symptoms that affect mood, memory, and ability to reason
  • Malnutrition or unhealthy diet
  • Sleeping problems
  • Sensory problems
  • Having multiple medical issues concurrently
  • The Increase of Online Fraud During COVID-19

Regardless of age, being the victim of a crime can cause significant mental distress for anyone. The elderly have always been at a higher risk of falling for scams and catfishing scenarios online.

Cybercrime has picked up substantially in 2020 as unsavoury individuals turn to the internet as a way to make money during the economic downturn.

It is easy to fleece lonely older people by pretending to be friends on social media or striking up friendships through a common interest site.

This is a danger that many older people and caregivers are not taking enough precautions to avoid. [1]

Being a victim of fraud increases the likelihood of developing mental disorders such as depression or anxiety.

Some of the common ways that the elderly are scammed online include the following:

  • Fake Romance – Criminals pretend to be romantically interested through dating sites or social media and use this as a way to access their victim’s personal information
  • Tech Support Scams – These can happen over the phone and usually involve a criminal posing as an IT specialist and sometimes will walk the older person by giving them access to their computer, which allows them to steal sensitive information
  • Grandparent Scam – Criminals pretend to be grandchildren or children of the elderly individual and state that they are in some financial trouble and need assistance immediately
  • Government Impersonation – The threat of prosecution if specific monetary requirements are not met is incredibly common. This is especially true around tax season when they often pretend to be IRS agents and threaten to call the police if money is not paid
  • Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams – Fees required to get the “winnings” from various fake sweepstakes or lottery are the most common form of this scam. These can be committed through the mail, phone, or online
  • Home Repair – Criminals will claim to offer home repair services, take an advance payment, and then disappear
  • Caregiver Scams – Caregivers, including relatives, use manipulation, persuasion, or simply steal money and other items from the elderly individual

The Impact of Covid-19 on the Mental Health of the Elderly Infographic

Below, we share our latest infographic to illustrate the impact of COVID-19 on the elderly in a visual sense:

COVID-19 and elderly infographic

Protecting Yourself and Your Loved Ones Against Online Criminals

Avoiding these situations will help boost self-confidence and make it less likely that you or someone you love will be taken advantage of by criminals.

There are several ways to decrease the risk of becoming the victim of online fraud, including the following.

Keep your smart devices up to date with reputable security software
Never give out identifying or private information online or over the phone
Always check the identity of people who you meet online to ensure they are real (e.g., check social media, online yellow pages, etc.)

If you feel your information was in any way compromised, reach out immediately to your bank and monitor for suspicious activity. Be careful of downloading anything unless you are sure of what it is – this is especially true for email attachments

Common Issues the Elderly are Facing During COVID-19

Isolation fears related to the pandemic and a lack of proper care are leading causes of many of the mental health disorders that are being reported. [4]

We list some of these issues below:

1. Depression

Depression is entirely treatable with therapy and medications. It is not an inevitability of growing older, and any sign of it should spark real concern and immediate treatment.

Older adults are often underdiagnosed for depression, so keeping an eye out for the symptoms can help. Indications of possible depression include lack of interest, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, lethargy, irritability, feelings of hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, and difficulty with memory and concentration.

Approximately 13.5% of people who need in-home caregiving are diagnosed with depression. [7]

2. Anxiety

There has been a reported escalation in elderly individuals who are having mental health relapses during COVID-19. This is primarily due to an increase in anxieties centred around the pandemic. [8]

3. Dementia

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) states that elderly individuals who are kept isolated from others are 50% more likely to develop dementia. The lack of mental stimulation and proper care leads to higher instances within 55 and older people. [3]

4. Suicide

The suicide rate among men is highest among those 75 and older. Women are more likely to commit suicide in their late 40s to early 60s. [5]

With the mounting daily stresses caused by COVID-19, these statistics are expected to show higher in reports for 2020-2021.

So far, there has been a marked increase in PTSD, anxiety, and suicidal ideation in senior individuals. [4]

5. Neglect

Whether they live in a long-term residential facility, alone, or with a caregiver, the risk for neglect and caregiver abuse is high. [1]

6. Loneliness

Before COVID-19, loneliness was a problem facing the elderly community. Since the start of the pandemic, that has increased in severity to the point where it affects more people than ever.

The CDC has reported that loneliness causes higher rates of suicide, anxiety, and depression.[3]

7. Alcohol Abuse

Approximately 40% of the elderly population (65+) drink alcohol regularly. This can have the adverse side effects of interacting with medications and increasing cognitive issues, as well as the possibility of accidental injury. [6]

The Negative Effects of Continual Isolation

The negative physical and mental effects of isolation include the following: [9]

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Weakened immune system
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Cognitive decline
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Death in severe cases due to injury, suicide, or other complication

Hospital Stays and Worsening of Mental Health

While staying in a hospital for COVID-19 or any other ailment, it is vital to ensure that the elderly are monitored for a worsening of mental health.

The stringent lockdown measures active in most hospitals make it likely that anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideations that may already exist will be magnified.

This can be mitigated by prioritising emotional wellbeing and checking-in regularly with them about how they feel and what might make the stay more bearable.

How COVID-19 is Affecting the Mental Health of Elderly Individuals

A high percentage of elderly people are contracting COVID-19, with some estimates putting the number at as high as 14%. [9]

News and the media have reported that older individuals are forced to go without ventilators when they are in high demand. This has increased the high level of fear already attributed to the pandemic.

While coping with these anxieties, other problems face the most vulnerable elderly, including abuse, neglect, and a lack of social support.

1. Isolation From Friends and Family

Being isolated from friends and family can be devastating for people who have no other significant social interactions. Loneliness, a sense of helplessness, and a lack of meaning in daily life can lead to the development of mental health disorders or a relapse of previous disorders.

2. Neglect

There has been an increase in neglect cases in care homes, which has led to mental disorders such as depression and anxiety and a decrease in overall health. [4]

3. Lack of Options for Social Interactions

Unlike people who are living in independent care housing or with their families, most individuals in a long-term care facility do not have the option of going out to the store or a park to deal with the cabin fever of extreme isolation.

Some areas have not even allowed in-person visitations for the elderly in care homes since the introduction of COVID-19 related changes.

Helpful Ideas For Decreasing Stress and Loneliness in Elderly Loved Ones

1. Communicate Often

Stay in touch with your loved ones who may be suffering from loneliness during COVID-19. There are many ways to communicate (e.g., social media, texting, email, phone calls, video chats, etc.), and it will make a difference in the mental health of the people that mean the most to you.

Talking to them is a way to check in to make sure they are staying busy, healthy, keeping up with medications, and being taken care of if they are in long-term care.

Now more than ever, it is essential to know that they are being looked after properly. You can brighten up their entire week by reaching out.

2. Share Life Events

Feeling left out of significant life events can be devastating for older parents and grandparents, so share these events through video and pictures if they cannot attend personally.

Being included in the milestones of people they love will help fight against the anxiety and sadness that can grow during isolation.

3. Make Sure They are Eating Healthy and Sleeping

There has been an increase in sleep disorders among the elderly since the start of the COVID-19 related lockdowns in early 2020.

The direct cause varies from case to case, but restlessness and intense daily stress are a factor for most. One way you can help someone you love cope with their isolation is to make sure they are getting enough rest. [2]

They may need to talk with their doctor about getting some prescription medication to make it easier to regain a normal sleep cycle.

Maintaining a healthy diet is also important for continued physical and mental health.

Things the Elderly Can Do to Increase Their Quality of Life During COVID-19

It can be helpful to have a plan and goals for every day. Below are a few recommendations for things you can do to create a healthy, positive home environment if you are an elderly person coping with the pandemic and its isolation.

  1. Stay active (e.g., walking, indoor exercises, easy yoga, etc.)
  2. Follow health and safety guidelines when going out but do not be afraid to go places in your community to take part in social interactions
  3. Reach out to people and take up charity or volunteer work as a way to make a difference and gain self-confidence. There are plenty of online and socially distanced volunteer opportunities
  4. Do not be afraid to ask for help or let others help you to give them a purpose during COVID-19. There is strength in allowing your community, friends, and family to support you. There is no need to avoid talking about the stresses and anxiety that are a part of your life. Talking about it can bring relief
  5. Take up a hobby that requires mental stimulation and physical activity (e.g., puzzles, crafts, etc.)
  6. Do something that you genuinely enjoy each day, even if that is just speaking with a friend, eating a favourite food, or watching a movie
  7. Avoid drinking alcohol











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