Lockdown loneliness linked to more depressive symptoms in older adults

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  • Loneliness in adults over the age of 50 may cause mental health problems
  • The lack of physical activity during the lockdown can exacerbate these problems
  • Further studies are needed to determine the long term impact of Covid-19 in this age group

Many adults, 50 years and older, experienced loneliness linked to worsening depressive and other mental health symptoms during the Covid-19 lockdown, according to a large-scale online study.

Mental health taking a knock

The research by the University of Exeter and King's College London ran an online survey of 3 300 UK citizens who filled out a questionnaire. Of these participants, more than 3 000 said that the loneliness they experienced during the lockdown exacerbated their depression and anxiety symptoms. 

The study compared how lonely people reported their mental health before and during the lockdown. The findings show that before the lockdown lonely people would report an average of two symptoms of depression for a minimum of several days. During the lockdown, however, they reported either an increase in the frequency of depressive symptoms, or a new symptom. 

“Our study enabled us to compare mental health symptoms before and after Covid-19 in a large group of people aged 50 and over. We found that during the lockdown, loneliness and decreased physical activity were associated with more symptoms of poor mental health, especially depression. It's now crucial that we build on these data to find new ways to mitigate the risk of worsening mental health during the pandemic says,” Dr Byron Creese, who led the study, in a press release.

Lack of physical activity

The study also found that there was a decrease in physical activity. Researchers say that the lack of exercise was associated with more symptoms of poor mental health, especially depression.

“We've found links between loneliness and a drop in physical exercise and worsening mental health symptoms. It should be within our power to find ways of keeping people socially engaged and active,” says Zunera Khan, a co-researcher.

The researchers say that more studies are needed to understand the long-term impact of Covid-19 on mental health and wellbeing, and establish whether it has an effect on aspects of ageing, such as brain function and memory.

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Image credit: Pexels

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