Adults over 50 at higher risk of depression during pandemic, especially under certain conditions: study led by Hamilton’s McMaster University
Published November 26, 2021 at 12:52 pm
New research from McMaster University in Hamilton suggests the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the mental health of older people living in the community. It also found that those who are lonely are at an increased risk.
Using data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA), a national team of researchers found that 43 per cent of adults aged 50 or older experienced moderate or high levels of depressive symptoms at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The level of depressive symptoms also increased over time.
Researchers used telephone and web survey data to examine how health and social (income and social participation) related factors impacted the prevalence of depressive symptoms during the initial lockdown in March 2020 and again after the first re-opening phase.
The most significant predictor of increased depression was loneliness, followed by other pandemic-related stressors — such as family separation, family conflict, and caregiving responsibilities. The moderate or high levels of depressive symptoms got worse over time, the research found.
The study was published in the Nature Aging journal. It was led by Parminder Raina, professor in the Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact. He is also the scientific director of the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionated impact on older adults, with groups of people who were already marginalized feeling a far greater negative impact,” said Raina, lead principal investigator of the CLSA.
“Those who were socially isolated, experiencing poorer health and of lower socioeconomic status were more likely to have worsening depression as compared to their pre-pandemic depression status collected as part of the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging since 2011.”
Women were also more likely to have higher odds of depressive symptoms during the pandemic compared to men, and a greater number of women reported separation from family, increased time caregiving, as well as barriers to caregiving.
Overall, older adults had twice the odds of depressive symptoms during the pandemic compared to pre-pandemic. But those with lower income and poorer health, either due to pre-existing health conditions or health concerns reported during the pandemic, experienced a greater impact.
“These findings suggest the negative mental health impacts of the pandemic persist and may worsen over time and underscores the need for tailored interventions to address pandemic stressors and alleviate their impact on the mental health of older adults,” Raina added.
The findings mark the first published COVID-19 research emerging from the CLSA, a national research platform on ageing involving more than 50,000 community-dwelling middle-aged and older adults at recruitment. The platform is funded by the Government of Canada through and Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Canada Foundation for Innovation.
The research team included CLSA principal investigators Christina Wolfson of McGill University, Susan Kirkland of Dalhousie University, Lauren Griffith of McMaster, along with a national team of investigators.
Additional funding for the CLSA COVID-19 Questionnaire Study was provided by the Juravinski Research Institute, McMaster University, the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging, the Nova Scotia COVID-19 Health Research Coalition and the Public Health Agency of Canada.
—with files from Laura Lawson, Canadian Longitudinal Study on Again (CLSA)insauga's Editorial Standards and Policies advertising