Here’s how Covid-19 caused mental health issues in the elderly

Covid-19 has been extremely heavy on your kids as well as the elderly. Here are a few tips to ensure their mental health and keep them safe.
Why do older people feel lonely
Loneliness can impact their well-being. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Dr Ishita Mukerji Published: 30 Jan 2022, 14:00 pm IST
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The generation gap and fast-paced world may have felt like too much to deal with already, and then a pandemic hits and turns your world upside down. Covid-19 has had an impact on not just the physical but also the mental health of the most vulnerable segment of the population, the elderly.

Older adults faced many challenges during the pandemic, especially those who did not live in a traditional close-knit family structure were confronted with difficulties like:

  1. Non-availability of attendants or help
  2. Difficulty in adapting to the digitization of healthcare
  3. Less or no people to interact with
  4. Financial pressure
  5. Dealing with the terrible news from their loved ones
mother’s day
Caring for elderly is the key to their good mental health. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

This, combined with a nationwide panic, further added to their mental suffering so much so that it has been termed as the ‘Silent Pandemic’.

Since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak in March 2020 and the subsequent lockdown that followed, older adults have shown an increase in the level of stress, anxiety, and depression. All this, owing to limited mobility and communication. The feeling of isolation was especially detrimental to their mental well-being as most of them either didn’t have access or weren’t used to relying on technology for communication.

Therefore, it is crucial to take action before the damage is done. If their mental well-being is ignored, it can often lead to irreversible changes in their behaviour in the long term.

It is often seen that behavioural changes in the older adults are generally overlooked in most Indian households. As members fail to identify their conditions in the initial stages, they often blame their age for their newly-acquired behavioural patterns. But, it is imperative to their overall well-being that we identify these changes and take measures to counter them early on.

Being confined at home amid the pandemic has made life tougher for older people. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Some common signs of mental health issues in elders that you can look for:

  1. Changes in the mood, where they’re constantly anxious, angry or irritable.
  2. They are pessimistic about the future and often show an attitude of hopelessness and helplessness.
  3. They will also talk more about dying or death in general.
  4. They might start abusing substances like alcohol, cigarettes or even start taking excessive medicinal drugs to sedate their anxiety.

If you spot such behavioral patterns, it is advised that you seek some professional help preferably from a psychologist. However, there are also a few measures that one can take at home to help the elderly deal with their problems. This will prevent any major mental health issues from arising in the first place.

Here’s how you can ensure good mental health of the elderly in your family:

1. Talk to them

Make them a part of your family and mean it. In many households, the elders report that they don’t feel like they’re a part of the immediate family structure. It’s more like, they’re just there. So what you can do is, indulge in activities with them. Watch movies together, play games like chess and ludo. Try to talk to them about their life, their accomplishments and let them be the center of the conversation instead of allotting them a spectator seat. It’s all about feeling genuinely interested in them.

2. Make them feel important

The elderly often feel that they are losing their say in family matters. Therefore, it is important for you to respect their opinions and even encourage them to add their share of advice to a discussion. They should at no point feel irrelevant or obsolete.

3. Join them in their happy activities

Encourage them to start doing something they take pleasure in. It can be gardening, reading, knitting, cooking, etc. Join them in these activities with a genuine attitude to learn. You’ll be surprised at how eager they feel to teach you something.

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Ensure that your elders indulge in some physical activity to keep them calm. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

4. Prevent them from watching excessive news

News can often be misleading as many channels often portray a negative picture of the society to gain TRPs. Many older adults aren’t aware of this fact and they tend to blindly believe what is being said on the TV. Tell them about this and keep them away from media that can trigger any sort of emotional panic in them.

5. TechEd

Introduce them to technology, and slowly help them get accustomed to using features like voice calls and Facetime. Help them get used to health monitoring apps and features like setting emergency calls. Be patient in the pursuit and don’t expect them to grasp everything as soon as you teach them.

6. Fitness

A healthy body has a healthy mind. Encourage your elders to do daily indoor exercise and help them set fitness goals. The primary reason for their hopelessness lies in their poor health. Join them in their goals as simply asking them to do it is just not enough. It is proven that physical activity reduces stress and anxiety.

These are some of the measures you can take to help the elderly better manage their mental health

The takeaway:

Genuine empathy is all they need. Also, you have to understand that they can often feel overwhelmed and hopeless. Especially, in unpredictable scenarios like the ongoing pandemic. It is way too much for them to deal with sometimes. Therefore, it becomes our moral duty to act as their comfort cushions instead of scapegoating them.

They won’t say it because they don’t know, but they need your love, and it’s something you owe them.

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About the Author

With a vast experience of over 10 years, Dr Ishita Mukerji Is an internationally renowned psychologist. She is an editorial board member of American Journal Of Health Research & Associate Counsellor in World Mental Healthcare Association & Counsellors Council Of India. She is also a Jury Member & personality coach of various modelling and beauty pageants. She has been associated with various prestigious hospitals, clinics, schools, media houses, senior care institutions and corporates.Her Expertise lies in the field of couple, family, child counselling, stress, anxiety & depression management, personality development, workplace & lifestyle management. She is also an accomplished life skill and a corporate trainer.A Doctorate in Psychology, Dr Ishita Mukerji is a Silver Medalist and has published various research papers in both national and international journals and conferences.Dr Mukerji’s work has been covered by many famous publications & many leading media channels. ...Read More

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