What has COVID impacted older people's mental health?

What has COVID impacted older people's mental health? What has COVID impacted older people's mental health?

1 Expert Answer

Ms. Donna Butts

Executive Director,  Generations United

For many older adults, the COVID19 pandemic has been a period of fear and intense isolation. Facing higher risk of serious COVID symptoms, basic and essential tasks such as grocery shopping, seeking medical care, and visiting with family and friends were now potentially life-threatening and, for many, had to be done away with completely. Confined to their homes with limited or no social contact for months on end, many older adults experienced depression, anxiety and apathy related to social isolation. But they were not alone, people of all ages faced the devasting impact of loneliness. While tools such as Zoom, FaceTime and other video conferencing software allowed for virtual interaction, many older adults struggled to adapt to these technologies. Unclear and conflicting public health mandates, as well as polarized public reaction to pandemic response, only heightened feelings of fear and anxiety for all ages.

Living with family was a comfort to many older adults during the pandemic, alleviating feelings of social isolation, but it was also a source of frustration and anxiety. As child care centers and schools closed and transitioned to virtual learning, many older adults stepped in to help care for and support grandchildren and other kin. For grandfamilies, this added additional stress. This additional strain, combined with lack of privacy and respite due to stay-at-home orders, had negative effects on older caregivers’ mental health. Many families were forced to make the difficult decision to work outside of the home at personal risk to their own health and the health of their loved ones. Others had to stop working because of family caregiving responsibilities. These difficulties compounded existing concerns many people face about access to food, safe and affordable housing, physical and mental health services, transportation, among many others.

While the pandemic continues to present unprecedented challenges, the experience has also highlighted the importance of intergenerational connections within both families and communities. Despite the challenges, intergenerational practitioners and champions around the world responded with passion, enthusiasm, creativity, and perseverance to maintain and expand connections across generations and to meet emerging and evolving needs in their communities. Learn more about some of the creative intergenerational responses to the pandemic in the report Staying Connected While Staying Apart: Intergenerational Programs & the COVID-19 Pandemic. To learn about solutions to connect grandfamilies to critical supports during this crisis and to create system that will continue to serve them well in the report Facing a Pandemic: Grandfamilies Living Together During COVID-19 and Thriving Beyond.

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