Image of depressed or anxious older adult with head in hands

Older adults who stayed at home and practiced social distancing during the pandemic were more likely to experience depressive symptoms, anxiety and lower quality of life than their peers who did not, analysts say.

Those who stayed home, for example, were twice as likely to experience symptoms of depression, investigators reported. 

The study, conducted in Britain, used data from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging to determine links between following COVID-19 mitigation measures and mental health. Fully 70% of older adults were “shielding” (the British term for practicing COVID-19 mitigation) or staying at home by December 2020. And 5% shielded throughout the pandemic’s first nine months, they found.

Those who shielded had worse mental health, even after controlling for sociodemographic characteristics, pre-pandemic physical and mental health, and social isolation measures, reported Giorgio Di Gessa, Ph.D., of University College London, and Debora Price, Ph.D., of the University of Manchester. These community members reported lower life satisfaction, as well, they added.

The results offer a broad view of the potential negative effects of pandemic stay-at-home and shielding recommendations on the long-term health and social welfare of older adults, the authors wrote. 

If these policies remain a core strategy to protect at-risk individuals from COVID-19, “urgent attention should be paid to addressing the mental health and wider needs of these groups in emerging from the current pandemic,” they concluded.

The study was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.