Trent University researchers study impact of social isolation on seniors

Local seniors and their “circle of care” — families, friends, caregiver staff and agency volunteers — are being asked to share their experiences and stories of imposed social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic in a study being carried out by Trent University, with the hope of finding solutions to lessen the impacts.

“We’re really trying to capture the experience and advice of people living through it,” said Ann MacLeod, who is a member of the nursing faculty at Trent and the principal investigator of the research project along with Catherine Ward-Griffin, professor emeritus at Western University, Jayne Culbert of Age Friendly Peterborough (AFP), Dawn Berry-Merriam of Trent Centre for Aging and Society, Justine Levesque of McMaster University, and Juliet Osi-Boateng of Ryerson University.

“Certainly we are starting to see, especially as the pandemic has gone on, the negative impacts of social isolation, not only physically but emotionally and mentally,” she said.

“We’re really trying to capture the experience and advice of people living through it.”

The Participatory Action Research Project stemmed from a group of seniors and health and social service providers who participated in weekly teleconferences at the beginning of the pandemic, chaired by Peterborough Public Health.

Seniors living in community dwellings, such as retirement homes, supported or assisted living residences or their own homes, are being interviewed online or by telephone, as well as family caregivers and members of community agencies in the Nogojiwanong/Peterborough region and area First Nations, and asked the following questions:

• How has social isolation related to the pandemic affected your physical, mental and social health?
• What has helped or hindered your coping?
• What you would recommend to reduce the negative impacts of social isolation?

Residents and staff of long-term-care facilities were not included because the advisory committee felt it was a different context and beyond the scope of community agencies with whom it was collaborating, MacLeod said.

The project is a partnership between Trent University and the City of Peterborough’s Age-friendly Peterborough (AFP), a community collaborative working to improve health, safety and well-being of older adults by enhancing programs, services, and infrastructure for older adults in the Peterborough region, including the City and County of Peterborough, and the Curve Lake and Hiawatha First Nations.

The interviews will be analyzed along with key documents to provide themes of experiences of seniors and their caregivers, explained MacLeod. In November preliminary findings will be shared with Age-friendly Peterborough’s working groups, refined, and then discussed at the AFP’s Dec. 3 annual Working Together meeting.

MacLeod said they are still recruiting people to interview. If you would like to participate, email or leave a voice message for Ann MacLeod at 705-748-1011 x 7386.

“We’re realising that we need to come up with solutions on how to mitigate impacts on seniors while keeping the spread of the virus controlled, not just during the pandemic, but in the future as well,” she said.

By Melodie McCullough

Photo credit: Gregory Burke;

Categories: Health, Uncategorized

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