Dealing with grief, loss, loneliness, helplessness – there has been little focus on the mental health of the elderly during the two waves of COVID-19 as opposed to that of other age groups.
The elderly certainly had not signed up for the premature loss of children and other loved ones at the fag end of their lives. Some are completely rudderless with no one to turn to in such adversity. To top it all, what with social distancing norms, there is not even a shoulder to cry on in the absence of any social rituals.
The second wave has been particularly harsh on the elderly who are living alone, single or as a couple. For those, whose children are living abroad, it is even tougher with neither being to visit the other. Many have pre-existing medical conditions and reports of unavailability of hospital beds, or timely medical support, struggles for oxygen and increasing COVID-related deaths have instilled fear and anxiety even as they grapple with the entire situation.
A Longitudinal Aging Study in India (LASI Wave 1 India report 2020), which examined health data for the elderly across India, says that 20 per cent of the elderly suffer mental health problems.
In a survey conducted by Samvedna Senior Care after the first wave of the pandemic last year, with adults over 40 years to understand the impact of COVID on mental health and well-being, 66 per cent reported experiencing more than one symptom of psychological distress. Of individuals experiencing distress, 86 per cent said their mood was low and 83 per cent said they found it hard to find purpose in their lives or enjoy their daily activities.
A further 58 per cent reported constantly feeling strained due to the lockdown. Sleep difficulties are also related to anxiety and depression and 33 per cent said they were facing sleep-related difficulties in recent months. However, only 22 per cent of the individuals surveyed said they would consider speaking with a mental health professional—this highlights the stigma that exists around mental health, News18 reported.
Then there is the question of the elderly being hesitant or embarrassed to talk about their mental health issues adding to their sense of loneliness. More than anything else they worry they may be judged or fear becoming a burden on their family by disclosing their feelings. Ignoring mental health comes at a cost and can lead to increased risk of psychiatric conditions like depression, which can impact physical health, and reduce the ability to live independently, the report added.
On the flip side, many of them have become tech-savvy and are able to consult doctors on the Internet without having to venture out of the house and even add their children to these virtual medical consultations. This makes it easier for the children to understand better the life-condition of their parents reach out to them easily.