We have all had disruptions to our routines as a result of health concerns and local policies related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As with many traumatic events, recovering and finding stable ground can take years. The pandemic impacted everyone differently. This is based on a number of factors, such as where they were located and their access to medical services. Age is another factor that has been determined to be important in predicting treatment outcomes for cases of COVID-19. Specifically, older adults are at the highest risk for complications, including death, if they contract the virus. Beyond weathering the pandemic, the population of older adults is faced with a number of other challenges. When combined, the resulting stress can be overwhelming. To illustrate how this can play out, let’s look at an example.
Teddy’s Pandemic Story
Teddy feels as though his world has come crashing down. Following the lockdowns, his family informed him that they would not be able to visit with him. There was too much risk of spreading the virus. He was no longer able to go out for lunch with his neighbors, and was unable to get in touch with his doctor to schedule his routine checkups. When vaccines arrived, he tried to make an appointment. Instead, he lost $500 to a scam and has developed a fear of answering the phone and going online.
Teddy is in his late 70s. This puts him in the age group that is most vulnerable to life threatening cases of COVID-19. He had a stroke several years ago that left him unable to drive, relying on a transportation service to get to and from various appointments and social gatherings. Because he is in a vulnerable population, he is considered high risk for contracting and having complications with COVID-19. Further, he is at risk for developing severe anxiety or depression due to lowered quality of life.
Impact on Teddy and Other Seniors
Unfortunately, Teddy’s case may be more common than we have fully acknowledged. As cases and deaths continue to fall, we are in the process of analyzing the impact of the global pandemic and repairing the damage. The virus has impacted people across the world. However, it has hit some groups harder than others. According to the CDC, 8 out of 10 reported deaths attributed to COVID-19 have been among the population of older adults. This includes anyone ages 65 and up. Anyone in this age group watching the pandemic unfold may be experiencing anxiety about contracting the virus. Concerns about being sick or dying can be perpetuate anxious feelings. Not to mention, the loss of peers, friends, or loved ones to the virus could also lead to complex grief and despair.
Pandemic & Social Isolation
Another challenge that seniors have disproportionately faced has been social isolation. This was a problem before the pandemic and has only worsened. For some individuals, social isolation can take a devastating toll on mental health, especially when prolonged. Although we have made significant progress as far as managing and preventing COVID-19, we have not been able to sufficiently address the costs to quality of life.
Awareness of the unique challenges faced by the older adult population is the best way to start addressing their needs. Historically, the biggest protective factor as far as mental health among older adults has been social support and feeling connected. A successful recovery from the global pandemic, including resilience during the aftershocks, is much more likely for older adults when this need is satisfied. Considering the greater burden this demographic has been managing throughout the pandemic, supporting older adults and acknowledging their unique needs will be critical for our society to get back on track.
If you are an older adult and feel like you are struggling, ask for help. Similarly, if Teddy reminds you of someone you care about, make it a point to check in on them. Older adults have been bearing the worst of this pandemic, which has led to increases in reported depression and anxiety in this population.