The COVID-19 pandemic has placed severe stress on older Americans, with mental distress, psychiatric drug prescriptions and use of counseling rising when U.S. infections surged, according to a new analysis of federal survey data.

The percentage of all American adults reporting recent symptoms of anxiety or a depressive disorder shot up along with COVID-19 case counts, peaking at 36% in August 2020, and 42% in February 2021, reported MedicareGuide.com, which examined data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey

The spikes were significant for adults aged 80 years and older, the analysts found. Seniors’ anxiety and depression leapt amid the 2020 summer surge in infections, then fell as case counts dropped during the fall season, and skyrocketed again from 18% in late September to 24% in mid-November.

At that time, people were getting worn down by COVID-19-related stress — and without a vaccine yet, they were scared, according to clinical psychologist Ainsley Burke, Ph.D., of Columbia University.

“There’s a very real pandemic and this is the most impacted population,” she said.

Over time, the oldest survey participants also reported taking more psychiatric medications and/or initiating mental health counseling or therapy — especially when COVID-19 cases peaked during the winter months, the investigators added. The percentage of elder respondents turning to these treatments jumped from 15% in early November 2020 to 22% by mid-December.

But there also were many elders who did not reach out for help. The percentage of respondents aged 80 or more years who said they needed counseling or therapy but did not get it has seesawed all year, from a low of 1.4% in August to 6% in the last reporting phase in March, according to the MedicareGuide.com analysis.

The Household Pulse Survey was initiated after the initial spring 2020 COVID-19 surge.