The Blog to Transform Advanced Care

Advancing Care through Innovation, Observation and Collaboration.

By: Tierney Beauregard, Programs & Communications Intern, C-TAC

With the current global health crisis, older adults, particularly those with advanced illnesses, are facing a pandemic of mental health as an insidious counterpart to COVID-19. Risk factors for depression laid out by the National Institute of Mental Health include having a chronic physical illness, loneliness or social isolation, and having experienced a difficult life event such as the loss of loved ones. These risk factors are especially prevalent among the advanced illness population and are exacerbated by social isolation and general stress wrought by the current pandemic; serious illness patients already face a greater risk of severe health consequences from infection of COVID-19, and due to the additional risks posed by increases in the prevalence and severity of depression, people may be less likely to seek medical attention for both mental and physical ailments.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has posed great risk for the mental health of the advanced illness population, it has also provided healthcare workers with time to reflect and evaluate the importance of mental health, and how underrecognized issues of loneliness, isolation, and depression are, within and among the serious illness population. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Aging looked specifically at the implications of COVID-19 and social isolation on gerontological social work. Researchers and clinicians are now working to develop tools to encourage providers to address mental health in the elderly and advanced illness populations. These tools range from a simple, easily administered assessment which addresses and checks for loneliness and depression to interventions aimed at limiting or preventing the onset of depression. Interventions typically provide patients with engaging activities, such as art, movement, and social calls via video or online conferencing platforms.

While COVID-19 has exacerbated the risks for depression and loneliness in the serious illness population, this pandemic has also exposed the gaps in mental health care for older adults. Social workers and other healthcare professionals are now finding ways to address these gaps in care. Through the increased use of mental health assessments, teleconferencing, and mental and physical stimulation and engagement through a range of activities, making mental health a priority in gerontological and advanced illness care is apparently vital and increasingly possible.

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