The pandemic has profoundly impacted seniors and nursing home residents in many ways, including causing their mental health to suffer.
The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has had huge consequences for society as a whole, but no population has been more profoundly affected than seniors and nursing home residents. Here are some of the unexpected effects on mental health for seniors that the pandemic has caused, along with a few coping strategies.
Mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on seniors
Ways in which the pandemic has affected the mental health of seniors include:
- Social isolation: With salons, restaurants, and churches closed, as well as having to isolate from family to avoid COVID-19, many seniors may feel profoundly isolated from their loved ones and social networks, which can lead to depression.
- Difficulty accessing medical care: Although telehealth is now widely available, this may not be the best option for seniors who don’t have internet access or computer skills. Many appointments and procedures have also been postponed, so other health conditions may have worsened during the pandemic, as well.
- Anxiety about catching COVID-19: As a high-risk group, seniors may feel extremely anxious and stressed out about the possibility of catching COVID-19.
- Food insecurity: While many grocery stores are offering safe grocery pick-up or delivery options, these require some degree of technological savvy that not all seniors possess. You also need a smartphone and internet access to use many of these options.
- Financial insecurity: Seniors who are not retired may have lost their job or quit to stay safe, whether or not they were able to take the financial hit.
Mental health impacts on nursing home residents
In addition to those listed above, residents in nursing homes may be feeling some additional mental health impacts of the pandemic:
- Feelings of helplessness: Nursing home residents may feel like “sitting ducks,” especially if there are COVID-19 cases in their facility. These feelings of helplessness can lead to anxiety and depression—on top of the extreme social isolation they are likely experiencing from being unable to have visitors.
- End-of-life anxiety: Those who are reaching the end of their life may be concerned that they will be alone for their final moments, unable to see their family or loved ones. This can be an extreme source of stress and anxiety for seniors.
- Poor understanding: Nursing home residents with Alzheimer’s disease or other cognitive decline may feel anxious because they don’t fully understand why their routine has been interrupted or why they’re being isolated from their loved ones.
How to cope
These coping strategies may help you, as a senior, improve your mental health or help you offer some support to your senior-aged loved ones:
- Reducing stress: Stress reduction practices like prayer, meditation, gentle yoga (if you’re able), and gratitude journaling may help you to feel less stress.
- Practicing good hygiene: Doing your part to reduce your risk by washing your hands regularly, wearing a mask, and practicing social distancing can help you feel more empowered about your own health.
- Having safe gatherings: Virtual or small, outdoor, socially-distanced gatherings with loved ones are relatively safe in most cases, according to the CDC. Seeing your loved ones—even from a distance—may help you feel less isolated.
- Seeking professional help: Finally, seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist may help if you are feeling depressed.
While safety from the virus is extremely important, we also need to consider the side effects of lockdowns on seniors’ psychology and mental wellness.