Conventionally, ‘elderly’ has been defined as a chronological age of 60 years or older. Elderly have been respected for their ability to guide and provide valuable advice, transmitting the ideas and values to the younger generations and share their learning and experiences. Elderly comes with a mass of psychological, social and environmental vulnerabilities. However, old age is also a time where their physical and mental health is declining; there is a risk of various infections due to decrease in all forms of immune response. Most elderly undergoes changes such as loss of memory, decrease in energy levels, inability to carry out their daily activities quickly, lack of interest but all of these are normal.
At the present moment, when the whole world is facing a serious problem due to COVID-19 in which the disease is spreading extensively and caused a number of death. The elderly also experienced insecurity, anxiety and fear because it is said that in comparison to young age the progression of illness and risk of death is three times higher in the elderly aged group. Therefore it is normal to be upset and worried about the crisis and problem for a certain time, it actually helps the individual in critical thinking and in a realistic manner. However, if such negative thoughts cross through the mind for several long time periods it can lead to mental health problems in which it is not by itself but a sign of mental illness.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant psycho-social impact of the people. Majority undergoes stress, depression, anxiety, and various adjustment disorders. Among all of them the elderly are the most vulnerable. They feel helpless, confused, find themselves isolated from their social interactions due to social distancing which leads to feeling of loneliness and abandoned. Elderly becomes a factor for stigmatisation in this population and when there is no social connectedness it can cause in suicide. Providing accurate information in own simple terms is needful since there are some elderly in which they are not at all comfortable with the trend of smart phones. Discrimination and lack of health care utilisation are other factors contributing to their poor physical and mental care during the crisis. Elderly who cannot cope up with the situation can worsen the problem and will deny the precautions such as personal hygiene and social distancing. Moreover elderly with mental health problems are prone and more vulnerable towards negative feeling during the COVID-19 crisis.
Mental health of elderly is the serious public health concern, and there is a need and importance to response it. Given below is a list of warning signs of mental health problems in the elderly:
- Social withdrawal; lack of interest in daily activities.
- Refused to eat.
- Ignorance of personal hygiene.
- Continuous irritability/anger.
- Disturbed in sleep.
- Feeling of worthlessness, helplessness and thoughts of suicide.
- Negative emotions that last for more than two weeks.
- Inability to maintain normal routine.
- Want company.
If any elderly shows the above sign it is time for the family member or caregivers to response and seek help from the health professionals such as the clinical psychologist/psychiatrist since there were many health professionals and social workers who are providing their services through online mode. There are also techniques and strategies to overcome mental health under the circumstances such as telephonic counselling, taking care of their physical health and psychological needs, social contacts with family and friends, encourage to perform a regular routine habits, providing accurate information, encourage to participate in activities which are safe and respecting their personal space.