Resiliency: The Surprising Way Older Adults are Better Prepared for the Pandemic
Resiliency is the human capacity to deal with adverse circumstances and get through even stronger. And it’s a key word for 2020
Everyone assumes that it’s better to be young in these COVID-19 times. After all, the young are generally better able to fight the virus.
But a recent study published in JAMA Network, The Journal of the American Medical Association, (1) shows one way that older adults might be better prepared for the pandemic: Dealing with Loneliness. Pandemics are stressful, in case you hadn’t noticed, and the loneliness that often comes with isolation can take a toll on mental health.
The Mental Health Cost of the Pandemic
Surveys from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted between June 24 and June 30, 2020, found that 40.9% of respondents experienced at least one mental or behavioral health condition (2).
These ranged from symptoms of anxiety, depression, and trauma to starting or increasing substance use (drugs, cigarettes or alcohol), however it seems that doesn’t affect older people in the same way.
Older Adults May be Better Prepared
A group of researchers at institutions in Massachusetts, California, and Pennsylvania looked at early data from several global studies on older adults and mental health during the pandemic.
While older adults are considered a vulnerable population for severe COVID-19 and related mortality, the researchers found that these adults were less negatively affected by mental health strain than younger adults. (1)
One report from the CDC, for example, concluded that older adults were less likely to start or increase substance use and less likely to think about suicide (2).
Of course, these findings do not apply to every older adult. In the same report, the CDC acknowledged that adults from marginalized groups or low-income households, and those who provided unpaid caregiving services were more likely to experience adverse health effects.
This is consistent with other evidence of higher levels of anxiety, depression, stress, and post-traumatic stress disorder in african americans (3) , compared with white americans, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Resiliency Seems to be the Answer
Based on the evidence, the authors suggest that older adults better withstand the mental health strains of the pandemic thanks to increased resilience and a drive to stay connected with others.
They explain that some global studies have shown that resilience is linked to maintaining meaningful relationships with others and access to mental health care.
“However, despite this early resilience, older adults expressed concerns about their longer-term physical and financial well-being,” the authors caution.
Resilience might also be linked with wisdom. The study found that having wisdom is associated with higher levels of compassion and less loneliness.
What this means for you: Improving resiliency
The researchers observe that increased access to technology could improve resiliency in some older adults, learning how to use a smartphone, for example.
Many older adults do not have the resources required to deal with the stress of COVID-19. This may include material resources like a lack of access to smart technology, social disadvantages like few family members or friends, or cognitive or biological concerns like the inability to engage in physical exercise or participate in activities or routines.
Increasing access to technology and related resources may help older adults maintain social relationships and boost their engagement with mental health services online, the study concluded.
If you are taking care of older family members, you already know how important it is to help them stay resilient. It might be tough at times, but just know that as you help them you are building your own wisdom, compassion, and resiliency.
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