Covid: Continuing pandemic could cause older people’s mental health to deteriorate

Independent Age estimates that as many as 318,000 people in England and Wales over the age of 65 lost their partners between the first lockdown and May 2021.

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Older people’s mental health could suffer as the Omicron variant of Covid-19 sweeps across the UK, charities have warned.

Research carried out by The Mental Health Foundation and Independent Age said the coronavirus pandemic has already damaged the health of people over the age of 65, and it may deteriorate even more for many of the UK’s 12.5 million older people.

In their report, the Mental Health Experiences of Older People During the Pandemic, the charities are calling for more support, including referrals to counselling and increased bereavement support for older people, as the pandemic continues and experts say more measures are needed to control the variant.

During research, the charities heard from a number of older people who talked about the effects coronavirus has had on their mental and physical health.

One man in his 70s said the “worst thing has been the loneliness”.

He added: “I can spend (so much time) not talking to anybody, 15 or more hours a day, not talking to a single soul.”

A woman in her late 80s said: “To be in this flat entirely on your own, I mean, I don’t know what I’d do without my little iPad. That is a big part of my life.”

Independent Age estimates that as many as 318,000 people in England and Wales over the age of 65 lost their partners between the first lockdown and May 2021.

Deborah Alsina, chief executive of Independent Age, said: “For some older people, the end of lockdown restrictions in the summer did not make much difference: There was no happy ‘return to normal’ for them. They continue to face the same illness, worsening mobility, grief, loneliness or isolation – often in combination – as they did before and during the pandemic.”

She said the mental health of older people and how it has been affected by the pandemic must not be overlooked by the NHS and Government.

In the report, Independent Age and The Mental Health Foundation recommended that public health authorities create new campaigns tailored to reach older people to help them look after their mental health.

They also recommended that local businesses spend time to promote bereavement support to people over the age of 65 as they may not use online services or know support exists, and that national governments, local authorities and care-home providers work together to help older people who want to use the internet by offering digital skills and confidence training.