A recent longitudinal study, available online in the International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), reveals that older individuals with COPD encountered an elevated risk of depression in the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This study scrutinised 875 COPD patients drawn from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Ageing, a comprehensive examination of Canadian seniors. By analysing longitudinal data, researchers made a distinction between 369 COPD patients with a history of depression predating the pandemic and 506 patients who had never encountered depression before the pandemic.
The investigation uncovered a concerning statistic: 1 in 6 individuals with COPD, previously free from depression, underwent their first bout of depression during the early pandemic phase.
Aneisha Taunque, a research assistant at the Institute for Life Course and Ageing at the University of Toronto and the study’s first author, stated, “Our findings highlight the substantial burden of COVID-19 on those who were mentally healthy prior to the pandemic. It is evident that the pandemic has had a detrimental impact on the mental health of many individuals, even those who had no lifetime history of depression.”
When narrowing the analysis to patients with a pre-pandemic history of depression, the prevalence of depression was significantly higher. Approximately half of these individuals experienced a recurrence or sustained depression during the autumn of 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the risk of depression among those with COPD. Already, individuals with COPD faced a heightened risk of depression compared to those without the condition before the pandemic. Given the mental health stressors during the pandemic, including prolonged lockdowns, economic instability, and fears of contracting or spreading the virus, it is unsurprising that this group confronted significant mental health challenges during this period.
Risk factors identified by the study include loneliness, family conflicts, functional limitations, and gender differences. In particular, physical activity, which is crucial for maintaining functional status among COPD patients, decreased during periods of lockdown, potentially contributing to increased depression risk.
The study highlights the importance of addressing mental health concerns, particularly in vulnerable populations, both during and after the pandemic.