And when asked about the last two weeks before they were surveyed, the percent who said they had concerning mental health symptoms was even higher, with 28% saying they felt depressed or hopeless in that time, 34% saying they’d been nervous or anxious, and 44% saying they’d recently felt stressed. Just under two-thirds (64%) said they had had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at least once in the past week, twice the percentage who said this in a 2017 poll of a similar group of older adults.
SEE ALSO: Loneliness Doubled for Older Adults in First Months of COVID-19 “As we enter a new phase of the pandemic, with most older adults getting vaccinated, it’s important to ensure adequate access to mental health screening and care to detect and address any lingering effects of this prolonged period of stress,” says Lauren Gerlach, D.O., M.Sc., a geriatric psychiatrist at Michigan Medicine who worked with the poll team. “This is especally important to those who might have a harder time accessing mental health care, including those with lower incomes and worse physical health.”
Just under half (46%) of the respondents say they feel isolated, which is down from 56% in a similar poll taken in spring 2020, but up from 28% before the pandemic. Nearly one in three (29%) say that they have made a lifestyle change to improve their mental health since the start of the pandemic such as exercise, diet and meditation. The data also suggest that older adults are more open to seeking mental health help than past research might suggest, with 71% saying they wouldn’t hesitate to see a mental health professional in the future, and 13% saying they had talked with their primary care provider about a new mental health concern since the pandemic began.
The poll also reveals hopeful signs that many older adults are showing long-term resilience. Two-thirds say their current mental health is excellent or very good. Just over 80% say their mental health is as good as, or better than, it was 20 years ago. The poll is based at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and receives support from AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center. It draws from the answers of a national sample of more than 2,000 adults aged 50 to 80 to a poll in late January, when COVID-19 case rates were high across the nation and vaccination of older adults had just begun.
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- The pandemic worsened the mental health and sleep of many older adults, a survey found, but long-term resilience was also seen
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