Elderly woman looks sadly out the window.

(© De Visu - stock.adobe.com)

NEW YORK — Isolation can be difficult for everyone. For seniors, especially those living alone, the coronavirus pandemic can cut them off from the vital help they need daily. A new survey finds social distancing is also taking a toll on the mental health of many older Americans.

The study of 1,000 Medicare recipients finds one in four feel their mental health, physical health, or both has declined under COVID restrictions. Of this group, the most common symptoms of mental health decline includes anxiety, depression, and irritability.

More specifically, an alarming 85% of seniors are battling more anxiety these days. Similarly, 78% have felt depressed, while 76% are more irritable since the start of the pandemic.

Social distancing increasing loneliness for seniors

As the pandemic has stretched across 2020, more people say they are now practicing social distancing than at the start of the pandemic. The poll, commissioned by GoHealth, finds 49 percent of seniors have increased the amount they isolate than earlier in the year. Unfortunately, four in five say this impacts how often they get to see their friends and family.

These numbers are leaving many older adults in a very lonely place. Nearly three in 10 say they feel lonely during isolation. Out of these respondents, a concerning 92 percent report their loneliness has increased since the start of COVID-19. For many, connecting with others is extremely hard. One in three Medicare respondents say they live alone.

Getting America connected again

As the country waits for a vaccine, the survey finds many seniors are doing whatever they can to connect with the world again.

More than seven in 10 (73%) are taking more walks to relieve their lonely feelings. While at-home visits are down, 56 percent are meeting with loved ones outdoors during the pandemic.

Although it’s a common stereotype that seniors and technology don’t mix, 47 percent say they’ve figured out how to video chat with their friends and family. Nearly four in five of these tech-savvy seniors say the calls prevent them from getting lonely. Another 37 percent have started using social media to cope with their isolation.

For those who still need help, GoHealth officials are encouraging seniors to reach out to groups like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. SAMHSA’s National Helpline (1-800-662-HELP (4357)), the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-799-4889 (TTY)), and the Crisis Text Line all have resources available to those in need 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Text “Home” to 741741 to reach a counselor.

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About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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