Michigan study shows need for mental health care amongst older adults


Patrick Jones


The University of Michigan released a study last week stating adults between 50 and 80 years old are more likely to have worsened mental health symptoms since the start of the pandemic. 


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The study was founded on a University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging conducted in January 2021. The poll had a sample size of 2,023 adults and was published in May 2021. 

While most older adults reported similar levels of mental health since the beginning of the pandemic, 18.3% reported worse mental health, 18.7% reported worse sleep, 18.9% reported worse depression, and 28.3% reported worse anxiety, according to the poll. Here is a graphic taking a deeper dive into the poll’s findings.



Image: University of Michigan National Poll on Health Aging


Lauren Gerlach, D.O., M.Sc., lead author of the new paper and a geriatric psychiatrist at Michigan Medicine, said:

“These findings show we need to continue to look for and address the mental health effects of the pandemic and connect people to treatment resources. Poor mental health can decrease functioning, independence, and quality of life for older adults but treatment can significantly help.”

The report also asked participants about their comfortability with talking about their mental health problems and some of the strategies they are using to improve their mental health. 

Of older adults, 87% reported feeling comfortable talking about their mental health. Thirty-one percent preferred to talk to their primary care provider, 25% to a mental health professional, 25% to a spouse or partner, and 11% to other family or friends. 

Some strategies older adults use to address their mental health include making lifestyle changes like exercise or meditation (29%), discussing their issues with their provider (13%), and starting a new medication (6%). 

The study said it is imperative to continue and intensifies screening for mental health issues in older adult patients. The study said:

“Given the increase in mental health symptoms during the pandemic, screening for symptoms and ensuring accessible treatment, including through telehealth, are essential even as the pandemic improves. Such treatment will be needed to help mitigate long-term emotional and physical effects of mental health symptoms during the pandemic and to restore functioning and quality of life for older adults.”