Impact of social isolation in the context of COVID-19 on mental health of older adults in Osogbo Local Government Area of South-Western Nigeria
Traditionally, older persons co-reside with extended family members. The social relationship and structure of the extended family were such that the living arrangement promoted intimacy between older persons and younger family members thereby mitigating the problems of isolation and loneliness in old age. However, this living arrangement was altered by one of the COVID–19 mandates - social isolation, imposed by the federal and State governments in Nigeria during the pandemic. This was with a view to limiting in-person visits and lowering the risk of COVID-19 infection. As important as this approach was, there were also concerns that social isolation may increase risk for anxiety, cognitive decline, dementia, and depression among older adults. Although research has been conducted on COVID-19 directives in Nigeria, studies which, considered the impact of social isolation on mental health in older adults who, traditionally rely on and cherish time spent with friends and family members are sparse, hence this study. Utilizing qualitative data from in-depth interviews with older men and women, the paper examined the impacts of one of the COVID-19 mandates on mental health of men and women aged 60 years and older; identified the factors responsible for mental health challenges in older adults in social isolation and investigated the strategies they adopted to cope with the identified mental health issues due to social isolation during the COVID-19 lockdown in Nigeria using Osogbo Local Government Area as a case study. The study showed that social isolation enforced by the federal government and state governments had negatively impacted on mental health of older adults in the study area. These findings are linked to movement restriction, stay-at-home and self-isolation orders that had made it impossible for children and extended family members to visit their aged relatives during the lockdown. The coping strategies employed include prayers, regular telephone conversations with family members, reduction in watching of television and observation of COVID-19 protocols, among others. Pragmatic policy options aimed at addressing this emerging mental health problem in older adults were highlighted.