Even before COVID, loneliness was a problem in America.
A 2018 study found that only 53 percent of U.S. adults said that they had meaningful, in-person connections every day. Since the pandemic, even fewer adults have had the opportunity for daily in-person connections – meaningful or otherwise.
Earlier this year, Karen VonDeylen, Prevention Manager with Maumee Valley Guidance Center, spoke at a NAMI meeting about the increase in loneliness and its impact on depression – particularly among the elderly.
She noted that the social distancing and isolation that was recommended to slow the spread of the virus has been especially difficult for the elderly, many of whom live alone or with only a spouse.
Older people may prefer in-person relationships, such as family get-togethers, church, volunteering, senior centers and so forth, the type that COVID restrictions reduced or eliminated.
While social distancing may have reduced the spread of the virus, it also contributed to loneliness. “For people who already had depression, the isolation increased their depression,” she said. “And, for others it led to depression.”
Now, as access to corona virus vaccines increases, it’s likely that people will soon be able to resume some of the activities that encouraged meaningful connections. But, VonDeylen urged persons who have experienced depression to recognize the illness’ symptoms and seek help if they suspect that they may suffer from depression. “Depression isn’t a normal part of aging,” she said. “It’s okay to seek help.”
Many times, older persons are reluctant to acknowledge that they may be depressed, much less seek medical help for it even though treatment options are effective.
Some of the more common symptoms of depression in the elderly include:
■ Lack of energy or motivation.
■ Change in sleep habits – either sleeping a lot or difficulty falling asleep.
■ Personality changes, such as sadness or irritability.
■ Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable.
■ Not taking care of oneself – whether personal hygiene, meal preparation, etc.
According to VonDeylen, family or friends who suspect that an older loved one may be depressed should let the person know that they are concerned about changes that they have noticed.
In addition to telling their loved one what they have noticed, also…
■ Listen to what the loved one has to say without passing judgment.
■ Ask if there is someone, such as a doctor, who they might be willing to talk with about the changes, and
■ Ask if there is anything that they could do to help, such as run an errand or regularly check in with their loved one.