UK warns of hidden mental health crisis among elderly


Charity says two years of the coronavirus pandemic have had ‘alarming’ impact on older people

A hidden mental health crisis is debilitating older people, with millions having lost the confidence to leave their homes, a charity has reported.

Age UK said the last two years have had an “alarming” impact on older people, many of whom have lost confidence and motivation and are experiencing anxiety, memory loss and disturbed sleep.

Those with dementia and cognitive impairment have seen their condition deteriorate more quickly than would have been otherwise expected over the past two years, it said.MORE ON HEALTHCovid vaccine inequality across world is getting worse

In some cases, older people have reported feeling suicidal.

The charity is urging friends and relatives of older people to reach out for a chat, or send a letter, and encouraged people to ask for help if they are struggling.

About 1,598 people in the UK aged 60 and over were questioned for the charity by Kantar Polling in August and September last year.

It found that a third of older people feel more anxious and a similar proportion (34 per cent) feel less motivated to do the things they enjoy, compared with before the pandemic.

Scaled up to reflect the UK population, this suggests 4.1 million people are feeling more anxious and more than 4.3 million less motivated.

About 27 per cent said they speak less to family now, with 24 per cent saying they feel less close to their relatives and 41 per cent describing feeling lonely.[I] think about death quite a lot. Life seems just a drudge. Nothing to look forward toAge UK survey respondent

The findings also suggest older people have lost the confidence to leave their homes, following two years of restrictions.

More than a third (38 per cent) said they would not feel confident in using public transport — the equivalent of 4.8 million people when scaled up to population level.

About 29 per cent said the same for going to indoor venues such as restaurants and theatres (equivalent to 3.6 million people), or religious services (26 per cent — equivalent to 3.3 million).

“[I] think about death quite a lot. Life seems just a drudge. Nothing to look forward to,” said one respondent.

“I now worry about things so much more than before, to the point it is affecting sleeping through the night,” said another

“She was fiercely independent before lockdown arrived, but being inside and alone has destroyed her and now we have a completely different person. It is heartbreaking,” a relative of an older person told Age UK.

Mental health stigma for the elderly

Charity director Caroline Abrahams said older people have traditionally been under-referred for NHS talking therapies, despite evidence showing they respond well to treatment.

“The pandemic has had a big impact on everyone of all ages and very few of us are emerging from the last two years completely unscathed,” she said.MORE ON MENTAL HEALTHUK’s Duchess of Cambridge encourages and inspires children in TV storytime

“However, talking about mental health and well-being is not something most older people have traditionally done, so they need to know it’s OK — perfectly normal, in fact.

“Many older people may feel reluctant to start a conversation about mental health, but the NHS is still there to support them and can offer treatments such as talking therapies which are often very effective.”

Rosie Weatherley, information content manager at the charity Mind, said the findings are “shocking”.

“If you notice changes to your thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are affecting your daily life last longer than two weeks, or keep returning, try to talk to someone you trust, ideally your GP.”

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