People aged 55–80 showed fewer symptoms of depression during lockdown

These are the results of a study by the URV and the IISPV on how the restrictions of the pandemic affected people with metabolic syndrome who took part in the Predimed-Plus project

During the COVID-19 pandemic, depressive disorders increased by more than 27 % worldwide. Factors such as restrictions on mobility and social contact or the risk of contagion caused these problems to skyrocket, and there was particular concern for the most vulnerable population such as older adults between 55 and 80 years of age. Now a study led by the Food, Nutrition and Mental Development research group at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV) has shown that this group of people showed fewer depressive symptoms during lockdown.

Given the controversial results of previous studies, which did not draw a clear conclusion on how pandemic restrictions affected the increase in depressive symptoms, the research team decided to explore these effects in the population of older adults participating in the Predimed-Plus project. To do so, they designed a questionnaire that provided a score to measure the degree of lockdown experienced by each individual (the higher the score, the more severe). It included aspects that were considered to be determining factors: for example, the physical environment (size and condition of the home, frequency of leaving the house during lockdown) and social contact (number of people living in the same house and work situation during lockdown).

Likewise, depressive symptomatology was assessed using another questionnaire that participants completed before, during and after lockdown. Higher scores indicated more depressive manifestations.

“Our initial hypothesis was that people who experienced a more severe lockdown and greater social restrictions would have higher levels of depression than those who experienced a less severe lockdown,” explains Indira Paz, a researcher from the URV’s Department of Biochemistry and Biotechnology, who took part in the study. However, the results were not quite as expected. “A comparison of symptomatology scores before and during lockdown showed that they decreased and returned to their levels once the the lockdown was over. Moreover, the degree of lockdown did not seem to influence depressive symptomatology,” she adds.

This decrease in depressive symptoms can be explained by several factors. On the one hand, older people may have been less affected by the social and economic consequences of the pandemic than younger people. Also, those people aged 55 to 80 who already had a diagnosis of depression before the pandemic proved to be more resistant to the adverse mental health effects of COVID “because they had prior knowledge of emotional management strategies and social connectedness,” Paz-Graniel explains.

The research team also points out that those with depressive symptoms and increased risk of complications from COVID-19 may have found relief from restrictions in mobility and social interactions. During lockdown, people who took part in the study were constantly contacted by the research staff to receive healthy lifestyle recommendations, such as appropriate eating patterns and instructions on how to engage in physical activity at home. According to the researchers, this may have played an important role in the prevention of depression. In this regard, it has been proposed that the increased frequency and quality of social relationships, including remote interactions, that took place during lockdown may have prevented the onset of depression.

This study, which has been published in the journal Depression and Anxiety, was carried out by a research team from the URV’s Food, Nutrition and Mental Development research group and was led by URV postdoctoral researcher Indira Paz-Graniel, URV associate professor Nancy Babio and Jordi-Salas Salvadó, URV professor and director of the research group. All three are members of the Centre for Biomedical Research Network on the Physiopathology of Obesity and Nutrition (CIBERobn) and the Pere Virgili Health Research Institute.

Bibliographic Reference: Paz-Graniel I, Babio N, Nishi SK., et al. “How Did the COVID-19 Lockdown Pandemic Affect the Depression Symptomatology in Mediterranean Older Adults with Metabolic Syndrome?”, Depression and Anxiety, vol. 2023, Article ID 6765950, 9 pages, 2023. https://doi.org/10.1155/2023/6765950

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