Vulnerable older people more likely to experience depression and anxiety during pandemic
Research published today (5 May 2021) in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that the clinically vulnerable were more likely to report worse health outcomes than those with no clinical vulnerabilities, including greater depression and anxiety and lower quality of life, even when taking into account pre-pandemic levels of health and social well-being.
The findings highlight the need for policymakers to consider the mental and physical health consequences of the pandemic for those at higher risk from coronavirus, particularly for those asked to shield.
The study was led by Dr Giorgio Di Gessa of UCL Department of Epidemiology and Public Health. It was co-authored by MICRAs Professor Debora Price, who said:
“Older people with underlying health conditions, even before the pandemic, faced challenges in terms of access to healthcare services and social contact; they also experienced greater emotional distress, higher risk of loneliness and poorer quality of life than non-vulnerable individuals. Coming out of the pandemic, more needs to be done to ensure that the long-term health and social well-being of these individuals are not compromised.”
The researchers looked at the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, comparing data from the first COVID-19 sub-study (June/July 2020) with previous data from 2018/19. They analysed responses from 5,585 people aged 52 and over in private households in England.
Respondents were classified as clinically vulnerable if they had a chronic lung disease, asthma, coronary heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, a weakened immune system as a result of cancer treatment in the previous two years or were severely obese.
Health outcomes included respondents rating their own health as poor, doing less physical activity, depression and anxiety. As measures of social well-being, the authors considered loneliness, lower levels of social contacts, and receipt of care, among others.
The authors state that: “although so far the focus has been on containing the spread of the disease and saving lives by encouraging shielding and social distancing of the most vulnerable people, policymakers need to be aware that when advised to stay at home, a host of health and social risks for this group, already poor, are likely to be exacerbated”