Older adults infected with COVID-19 may be twice as likely to develop mental health problems such as depression and anxiety and suffer from financial difficulties, according to a study.
The research, recently published in the journal PNAS, used data from 5,146 adults between the ages of 52 and 74 to examine the immediate and longer-term impact of COVID-19 on their mental health, well-being, social interactions, and financial outcomes.
Participants provided data before the pandemic (2018-19) and at two COVID-19 assessments in 2020.
The results showed that 49 percent of older adults with a probable COVID-19 infection had clinically significant depressive symptoms, compared with 22 percent of those without infection, between June and July 2020.
”There is currently little evidence on the impact that contracting COVID-19 infection may have on an individual’s mental health, personal finances, and social relationships,” said study lead author, Ellie Iob, from the University College London, (UCL) in the UK. ”However, our study shows that older adults with probable COVID-19 infection experienced higher levels of depression and anxiety, poorer quality of life, elevated feelings of loneliness, and greater financial difficulties compared with those without probable infection,” Iob said.
These issues were evident both in the acute phase of the infection and up to six months later, the researchers said.
The study also found that 12 percent of people with probable infection had anxiety, compared with 6 percent of those without viral infection.
These adverse effects lasted for up to six months after the presumed start of an infection and appeared to worsen, the researchers said.
A follow-up assessment between November and December 2020 estimated that the prevalence of depression and anxiety among older people with probable infection was 72 percent and 13 percent respectively, compared with 33 percent and 7 percent in those without infection, they said. Such an increase in the prevalence of mental health problems during the first year of the pandemic might be due to further months of COVID-19 control measures and restrictions on personal freedom. An estimated 40 percent of older people with probable COVID-19 infection experienced more financial difficulties in June and July 2020 than before the pandemic, compared with 20 percent of those without infection.
Feelings of loneliness were also twice as high in older people with probable COVID-19 infection than in those who didn’t get infected, according to the researchers.
However, monetary worries eased by November 2020, and no significant differences were found between those who had a probable COVID-19 infection and those who didn’t, they said.
”These results suggest that the adverse psychosocial impact of COVID-19 infection is long-lasting and more broadly present across the population,” Bob said.
”We encourage anyone who may be experiencing issues with their mental health or well-being to speak to their GP (doctor),” he added.
The authors of the study acknowledged some limitations to their study.
The classification of probable infection was based on self-reported symptoms and not confirmed by a laboratory test, so not all participants classified as suspected COVID-19 cases might have contracted the infection, the researchers said.
Symptoms of COVID-19 were also only ascertained at the first COVID-19 assessment in June-July 2020, and therefore researchers could not determine the duration of symptoms and identify people with long COVID, in which the symptoms last longer than 12 weeks, they added.