Older Americans with depression have held up well to the threat of COVID-19, a new study finds.
Researchers saw no increase in their depression and anxiety during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. And they said these seniors showed resilience to the stress of physical distancing and isolation.
“We thought they would be more vulnerable to the stress of COVID because they are, by [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] definition, the most vulnerable population,” said study co-author Dr. Helen Lavretsky, professor-in-residence of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“But what we learned is that older adults with depression can be resilient. They told us that coping with chronic depression taught them to be resilient,” she said in a university news release.
The researchers, from UCLA and four other universities, interviewed people older than 60, average age 69, during the first two months of the pandemic. Participants lived in Los Angeles, New York, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, and were enrolled in studies of treatment-resistant depression. The study was funded by the University of Pittsburgh.
The researchers found that the volunteers’ depression and anxiety levels, or risk of suicide, were the same before and during the pandemic.
In general, participants were more concerned about the risk of contracting the coronavirus than the risks of isolation. Also, while all maintained physical distance, most didn’t feel socially isolated and were using virtual technology to keep in touch with friends and family.
Still, many participants said their quality of life was lower, and that they worried their mental health will suffer with continued physical distancing. Some said they were unhappy with the government response to the pandemic.
The study was published online recently in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
Further research is needed to determine how the pandemic affects seniors over time, said Lavretsky, who added that the findings could help others coping with the pandemic.
“These older persons living with depression have been under stress for a longer time than many of the rest of us. We could draw upon their resilience and learn from it,” she said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on seniors and the coronavirus pandemic.