The Health Advocate - August 2020 - COVID-19 Edition

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DR JOYCE SIETTE Research Fellow, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University

MS LAURA DODDS Research Assistant, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University

Impact of COVID-19 on older adults’ mental health What is our role as an individual, a community, and a health and aged care system?

Introduction Worldwide, physical distancing and lockdown measures have been enforced to delay the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. This, however, comes at a social cost to the way we live, work and communicate. Extended isolation exacerbates loneliness and adversely affects mental wellbeing and cognition for all of us, but particularly older adults. While some parts of society are now celebrating the easing of physical distancing restrictions, we must not forget populations who have self-imposed restrictions and have become accustomed to being alone. They will need extra support to recover from this period of isolation, as well as if (and when) restrictions are re-introduced (such as has happened in Victoria).

What do we know about COVID-19 impact on mental health? ‘The isolation. I cannot ever remember being so lonely’—Older research participant reporting on the impact of COVID-19 in April 2020 in Dr Siette’s Older Adults Survey. Less than three years ago, the Victorian Government launched its first public campaign about loneliness ( articles/vh-letter-47-loneliness). The UK appointed a Minister for Loneliness. Both initiatives recognise the importance of social connections for one’s health, acknowledging that loneliness is linked with reduced lifespan and greater risk of both mental and physical illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, poor cognitive function, low immune system, and depression.

The Health Advocate • AUGUST 2020