Socialization Intervention and Mental Health Monitoring for Older Adults in the Era of Physical Distancing due to COVID-19

O'Connell, Megan E | $199,577

Saskatchewan University of Saskatchewan 2020 CIHR Operating Grant

Social interactions are a key component to health, and a lack of socialization impacts older adults’ physical health, cognitive health, and mental health. COVID-19, physical distancing, and worries about engaging in activities outside of the home due to a highly contagious disease with a high mortality in older adults is creating social isolation and is, therefore, creating an emerging mental health crisis for older adults. A Lancet article published on March 19th 2020 described this emerging crisis and called upon the global community to use technology to help reduce social isolation in the times of COVID‑19 induced physical distancing. In this project we are using technology to address social isolation with the aim of promoting mental health for older adults. We are creating virtual socialization hubs, which are a safe spot for older adults to create new friendships and minimize feelings of isolation using videoconferencing software. We are also creating socialization hubs for specialized groups of older adults, including those with lived experience with dementia in collaboration with the Alzheimer Society. Part of creating this safe virtual space and ensuring this intervention is accessible is training older adults how to use this technology, and we have been volunteering to successfully train older adults to use Zoom videoconferencing initially over the telephone since the onset of the pandemic. A second, and equally important virtual intervention, is telephone-based mental health monitoring, where a trained mental health practitioner will use scales monthly to monitor numerous older adults and implement mental health interventions as needed in a timely manner. The monitoring proposed in this project provides screening timely access to mental health resources, addressing the recent call by Galea (2020) for prevention and early detection of the mental health consequences of physical distancing due to COVID‑19 for older adults.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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