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Depressed elderly Brits suffered equivalent of SIX YEARS of natural memory decline in lockdown

Anxious and depressed Brits suffered the equivalent of up to SIX YEARS of natural memory decline in lockdown, study claims

  • Exeter University and King’s College London experts carried out the research
  • They found depressed adults saw six years of natural memory decline
  • But happy over-50s saw no significant change in their mental health 

Depressed Britons suffered a rapid decline in their memory over lockdown, research claims. 

Exeter University and King’s College London academics looked at the mental health and cognition of 6,300 over-50s. 

Depressed and anxious adults performed worse on short-term memory tests, which experts blamed on spending a third of the year in lockdown. 

Scientists claimed the lower scores were the equivalent of between five to six years of natural aging. Attention spans also took a hit.

But over-50s who were not suffering from mental health problems did not see any significant drop in their cognition. 

Exeter University researchers found older people saw their mental health decline during lockdown (stock image)

Do lockdowns make mental health worse?

When lockdowns were declared scientists came forward to say they represented a ‘ticking timebomb’ for mental health.

Some said they would rip people from their support networks, leaving them along and vulnerable.

They also said being unable to visit the workplace, or placed on furlough, could increase the chance of depression.

But others said the shutdowns could benefit mental health because they gave people more time with their families and could reduce stress. 

Official figures show that rates of depression in Britain rose to 70 per cent above pre-Covid levels by August. 

But they suggested that once restrictions were lifted they began to fall again.

Lead researcher Dr Helen Brooker, from Exeter, said: ‘It’s likely key factors were the unprecedented impact of worsening mental health caused by widespread anxiety over the pandemic, and long periods of lockdown.

‘We need to understand this better so we can create effective strategies to support people and preserve both mental health and brain health in future pandemics.’       

Scientists used data from the PROTECT study, a cohort of over-40s who take annual cognitive tests and fill in questionnaires.

This study aims to understand how healthy brains age and why people develop dementia. 

The period studied covered No10’s first lockdown from late March, and the second shutdown last November.

It also covered the period in autumn last year when the tier system was brought in amid concern over rising Covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths. 

Professor Dag Aarsland, a psychiatrist at KCL who was also involved in the research, said tests had enabled them to ‘pinpoint’ the decline.

‘We will continue to monitor how this plays out over time, so our insights can help us fully understand the impact of this pandemic.’ 

The research was presented today at the conference Clinical Trials on Alzheimer’s Disease held in Boston, US.

It has not yet been published in a journal or peer-reviewed, meaning other scientists have not had a chance to check and challenge its conclusions.

Charity Age UK has warned that millions of adults are still suffering from the harms of lockdown.

A poll of almost 15,000 elderly Britons it conducted found 22 per cent were finding it harder to remember things, equivalent to 3.2million people nationally.