The sudden growth of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic led to a series of lockdowns around the world. Previous research has highlighted the effect of pandemic-associated lockdowns on mental health.
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The World Health Organization released data that demonstrated that 55% of adults in the United States reported that COVID-19 lockdowns had a negative effect on their mental health (World Health Organization, 2020).
There are many psychosocial consequences of pandemics, with research showing that individuals’ mental health has been severely affected by COVID-19 and the associated lockdown.”
Docherty et al., 2021
Due to the out-of-home nature of senior socialization, older adults may be disproportionately affected by the lockdowns and social restrictions that were put in place, relative to younger adults.
In a recent study by researchers from the Department of Psychology, Northumbria University, researchers investigated the effects of COVID-19 lockdowns on senior mental health.
This was published in ‘Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine’ in September.
Pandemics and mental health
The older adult population is at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and experiencing severe illness from the disease. This is often because many older adults have pre-existing medical conditions. As a result, these individuals were directly impacted by lockdowns and shielding policies.
Members of the older adult population tend to rely on social groups and community centers to have social interactions. This contrasts with the use of social media networks for social interaction in younger populations. It can therefore be suggested that older adults are disproportionally affected by the lockdowns and social distancing laws put in place.
Previous studies have investigated the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns on mental health across all age groups. In a study by Sibley and colleagues (2020), researchers found that adults in Australia and New Zealand experienced increased feelings of mental distress during lockdown.
16.2% of those in the pre-lockdown group reported moderate mental distress, but this increased to 21.1% in the treatment group.”
Sibley et al., 2020
This data indicates the negative impact of lockdowns on mental well-being and allows suggestions to be made about the disproportionate impact it may have on the elderly, who depend greatly on out-of-home interactions to thrive socially.
What were the aims of the study?
Researchers of this study investigated how the mental well-being of seniors aged 70 and above was affected by COVID-19 lockdowns in the UK. The mental well-being of these individuals was investigated by comparing perceived stress, depressive symptoms, disturbances in mood, sleep quality, and memory pre-lockdown and during lockdown. A follow-up was also carried out post-lockdown to see any further changes.
Due to the unanticipated nature of the pandemic, there are very few studies with data pre-lockdown and therefore do not have a baseline to view changes in mental health as a result of the pandemic. This present longitudinal study is one that collected data before the initial lockdown in the UK in March 2020. This allowed researchers to compare changes in mental health to a baseline pre-lockdown and make more reliable conclusions on the direct effects of lockdown.
Results of the study
The results of this study showed that lockdown led to a significant increase in feelings of depression, anxiety, negative mood changes (e.g., anger, fatigue, and confusion), and a reduction in sleep quality compared to pre-lockdown.
The follow-up showed that mental well-being, depression, and disturbances in mood were still badly affected post-lockdown.
Conclusions and future developments
These results showed, in line with similar studies, that the lockdown negatively affected mental well-being in older adults significantly.
Support for older populations is needed to mitigate the negative effects shown, particularly in light of the endurance of some of these effects post-lockdown”
Docherty et al., 2021
It is important to note that all the participants in the study were all deemed “healthy” pre-lockdown. This suggests that the results seen would be on an even greater scale in individuals who have pre-existing clinical mental health conditions. A similar study involving older adults with pre-existing clinical mental health conditions should be carried out to evaluate the extent of any changes in mental well-being.
This current study, unlike others, had pre-lockdown data. This importantly allowed the direct effect of lockdown to be investigated in a section of the population who are known to be disproportionately affected by lockdowns and other social restrictions.
This study is an incredibly important step towards identifying how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected members of the population in ways other than those related to physical health.
Senior mental health is a topic that is not explored enough in psychological literature, as it is often overlooked by other physical ailments. It would therefore be beneficial for more studies surrounding how the pandemic has affected older adults in terms of mental health, outside of studies directly related to COVID-19.
- Armitage, R., & Nellums, L. B. (2020). COVID-19 and the consequences of isolating the elderly. The Lancet Public Health, 5(5). https://doi.org/10.1016/s2468-2667(20)30061-x
- Docherty, S., Haskell-Ramsay, C. F., McInnes, L., & Wetherell, M. A. (2021). The Effects of COVID-19 Lockdown on Health and Psychosocial Functioning in Older Adults Aged 70 and Over. Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, 7, 233372142110399. https://doi.org/10.1177/23337214211039974
- Sibley, C. G., Greaves, L. M., Satherley, N., Wilson, M. S., Overall, N. C., Lee, C. H. J., Milojev, P., Bulbulia, J., Osborne, D., Milfont, T. L., Houkamau, C. A., Duck, I. M., Vickers-Jones, R., & Barlow, F. K. (2020). Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide lockdown on trust, attitudes toward government, and well-being. American Psychologist, 75(5). https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000662
- World Health Organization. (2020). Mental Health and Psychosocial Considerations During COVID-19 Outbreak. https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/mental-health-considerations.pdf