A recent research paper by the Department of Community Development (DCD) in Abu Dhabi has revealed that the emirate fared relatively well in tackling the impact of Covid-19 on the mental and physical health of the older population. Published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, it pointed out that various programmes initiated by government agencies over the past years had a remarkable effect on the mental wellbeing of individuals in the community. The research comes as a fresh wave of pandemic sweeps across the world.
Between April and June 2020, DCD conducted two cycles of survey to explore and identify challenges and concerns of the Abu Dhabi community in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, which received over 33,000 responses from the community. The assessments were prompted by global research indicating a significant increase in mental-health issues among older adults including anxiety and loneliness. In comparison, the participants of the DCD study showed milder symptoms, reporting lower levels of irritability, emotional exhaustion, signs of depression, sleep disorder and overeating.
The study also indicates that older adults largely acknowledged the contributions of virtual technology in enhancing the quality of life. The responses come on the heels of the department last year launching an initiative in partnership with the Family Development Foundation (FDF) to assess the effectiveness of Virtual Reality (VR) technology in enhancing the mental wellbeing of the elderly. This is part of DCD’s effort to ensure adequate care for the ageing population in Abu Dhabi, which is crucial for maintaining the overall health of the community and society.
Her Excellency Dr. Layla Abdulaziz Al Hyas, Executive Director of the Social Monitoring and Innovation Sector at DCD said: “Physical and mental wellbeing of people is always a top priority for the Abu Dhabi community. We understand the concerns of the community during these challenging times, especially the seniors.” Al Hyas pointed out that research and innovation are of great importance at DCD, we always strive to collaborate with the social sector and various government authorities to address the major risk factors to mental and physical health and wellbeing of individuals by tapping into the potential of technology and introducing innovative interventions.
H.E. AlHyas added: “The scale of mental distress since the start of the pandemic required unprecedented levels of mental-health support to ensure that it did not to lead to permanent scarring, especially among the older population. “
Dr. Layla further explained that the Covid‑19 crisis heightened the risk factors generally associated with poor mental health – financial insecurity, social connection, access to physical exercise, daily routine, and access to health services. This has led to unprecedented worsening of population mental health. Older people are among those who have been hit the hardest. The scale of the problem prompted us to ensure more integrated, whole‑of-society mental health support. Although the results of our initiatives are impressive, much more work is left to be done. We can - and will - do better to help every member of our community to tide over the crisis and live a normal and happy life.
Professor Masood Badri, Advisor to the Chairman of DCD, who developed the research paper, valued the department’s continuous support and efforts to motivate researchers to conduct scientific and innovative studies to achieve sustainable solutions that meets the challenges. He stressed that DCD is cooperating with government institutions and policies, as the Emirate of Abu Dhabi has a unique culture and tradition, manifested in extensive and strong social bonds and connections, played an important role in enabling the community to overcome some of the challenges and crises.