Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Older Adults May Be More Resilient During Pandemic Than Younger People

Older adults may be more resilient to the anxiety, depression, and stress-related mental disorders that are being reported by younger adults during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an article in JAMA.

“[S]tudies from different countries have shown that at least some older adults are not experiencing disproportionately increased negative mental health consequences commensurate with the elevated risks they faced during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote Ipsit Vahia, M.D., medical director of Geriatric Psychiatry Outpatient Services at McLean Hospital; past APA President Dilip Jeste, M.D., director of the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging at UC San Diego; and Charles Reynolds III, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Vahia and colleagues cited a survey of 5,412 community-dwelling adults conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from June 24 to 30. The survey found that compared with younger age groups, the percentage of participants aged 65 years or older with anxiety disorder (6.2%), depressive disorder (5.8%), or trauma- or stress-related disorder (9.2%) was lower. According to the report, of the 731 participants aged 18 through 24 years, 49.1% reported anxiety disorder; 52.3%, depressive disorder; and 46%, trauma- or stress-related disorder. The findings mirror those of other high-income countries, including Spain, Canada, and the Netherlands, they noted.

Vahia and colleagues cautioned that the results are from surveys conducted early in the pandemic, and the longer-term effects of COVID-19, “especially in countries like the U.S. with very high rates of disease, remain unclear.” Moreover, there are no similar data on subgroups of older adults such as those with dementia, those caring for persons with dementia, or those residing in assisted-living facilities or nursing homes. The effect of comorbid chronic medical or psychiatric conditions also remains unclear.

But they noted that older adults may have traits of resilience that have enabled them to withstand the stresses of COVID-19, especially wisdom and a tendency to value the quality of a few close relationships over having many more superficial relationships. The authors noted that several recent studies involving various groups of people across the adult lifespan have shown a significant inverse correlation between loneliness and wisdom; other data also suggest that compassion may reduce loneliness and promote greater well-being.

“Understanding the factors and mechanisms that drive [older people’s] resilience can guide intervention approaches for other older people and for other groups whose mental health may be more severely affected,” the authors concluded.

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Interventions That Promote Wisdom May Help Patients With Psychiatric Conditions.”

(Image: iStock/Yaraslau Saulevich)

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