Older Adults, Mental Health, and the Pandemic
It’s no secret the pandemic transformed all of our lives. In March 2020, life as we knew it was turned upside down as the world locked down to flatten the curve and stop the spread of the virus.
This abrupt change brought along with it a slew of mental health issues for many people. In addition to anxiety, unease, and general concern about an uncertain future, some folks also had trouble sleeping, lost their appetites, and became more irritable.
While COVID-19 can be deadly for people of all ages, its impacts are felt the most by the older generation. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the virus’s effects get worse the older you are, with those 85 and above the most likely to get sick — and, unfortunately, the most likely to die.
Because of this, many older folks have been struggling with mental health issues in the wake of the pandemic. An October 2020 study, for example, found that nearly half of seniors agree that the stress of the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health. What’s more, one in four seniors reports that the virus has made them anxious or depressed.
Senior Mental Health: Depression Caused by the Pandemic
While older people are typically less likely to react to stress and more able to control their emotions than their younger counterparts, the pandemic’s scale has had a tremendous impact on many seniors’ well-being.
With many people sheltering in place — and many folks living in senior care facilities unable to see their family members and friends — feelings of isolation compounded for a number of people in this group.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, seniors who indicated that their physical health was either “fair” or “poor” were the most likely to say that their mental health had suffered due to the pandemic.
Unfortunately, there’s a tendency among this older group to avoid going to therapy. Some seniors think negatively about the idea of therapy in the first place because they grew up in a time where they were taught to swallow their pride. Others believe that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, so there’s not much of a point to even giving it a try.
As humans, we evolve, change, and grow over time. While seniors who are dealing with pandemic-caused depression might be hesitant to seek therapy, those who end up spending time with therapists benefit in a number of ways.
The Benefits of Therapy for Seniors
For starters, therapy can help seniors develop more of a sense of purpose in their later years. This makes it easier to get out of bed in the morning because there’s something to accomplish each and every day — and you get a better night’s sleep, to boot.
Therapy can also help seniors get to know themselves on a deeper level. By becoming more in tune with your body and being able to live in the present moment, you are able to explore an ever-evolving version of yourself.
Therapists can also help older clients make the most of their lives:
- Enact positive changes in life. Just because a client is in their golden years doesn’t mean it all has to be downhill from here on out. In fact, the best may be yet to come. For example, Roberta George published her debut, award-winning novel at the young age of 80. You never know when a new career might be in your client’s future.
- Make peace with getting older. As we age, we develop health problems. Such is life. Rather than assuming that a new diagnosis is the end of the world, therapists can help senior clients process it in a healthy way and take it all in stride. Instead of viewing a new health ailment as the worst thing in the world, perhaps you can convince them to view it as a challenge, a test, and a learning experience.
- Deal with loss. If you live long enough, you are likely going to experience the loss of friends and loved ones. While the grieving process is never easy, a therapist can help seniors process death and overcome losses in a healthy way — instead of dwelling on it and getting depressed.
- Overcome deep-seated issues. Not every senior has resolved all of the issues in their lives. For example, a client might have gotten into a fight with their sibling decades ago but never made amends. Therapists can help here, too, by working with seniors to address any issues from the past that are still affecting them today.
Treating Elderly Depression as a Therapist
As you can see, senior mental health services can have a profound impact on the older generations, enabling them to overcome elderly depression and live happy and fulfilling lives.
As you begin incorporating or expanding senior mental health services at your practice, here are some tips to keep in mind.
1. Be calm, patient, and understanding
While you should always be calm, patient, and understanding with your clients, it’s perhaps even more important when you’re dealing with senior mental health issues. After all, many seniors are hesitant to seek therapy in the first place. For many senior clients, engaging a therapist in the first place is a major step. Try to be as empathetic and understanding as you can to make them feel comfortable and at home.
2. Suggest social activities
Many seniors struggle with feelings of isolation — a condition that’s only been compounded by the pandemic. Encourage senior clients to be more social. Whether that’s getting involved with the local library, joining a seniors bowling league, or even volunteering at a local nonprofit, social activities can have a profoundly positive impact on senior mental health.
3. Think outside the box
Never forget to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions. For example, art therapy can help those struggling with depression while stimulating the brain. Similarly, you might also encourage seniors to get a dog or give pet therapy a try.
For more information on how to understand senior clients and the issues they face on a deeper level, check this out.
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