Older Adults and Caregivers and Pandemic - Interview with Alycia Bayne – February 3, 2021

Regulation | March 03, 2021 | by Jill Schumann

Alycia Bayne, Principal Research Scientist at NORC at the University of Chicago, joined the LeadingAge Coronavirus Update call on February 3, 2021.

Alycia Bayne, Principal Research Scientist at NORC at the University of Chicago, joined the LeadingAge Coronavirus Update call on February 3, 2021. She responded to questions from Ruth Katz and from callers.

Q: Please tell us more about the study, “Maintaining Physical and Mental Wellbeing of Older Adults and Their Caregivers During Public Health Emergencies”.

A: NORC conducted this study in partnership with TMNCorp and Burness on behalf of the National Foundation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We focused on the experiences of older adults and their caregivers in public health emergencies. Specifically, we looked at community dwelling individuals over age 50 and their informal - family and friend caregivers. We wanted to understand their needs and concerns as well as what resources and supports exist to help maintain health and wellbeing during emergencies. We used broad surveys, focus groups, and interviews with organizations that provide supports. We also searched for resources and interventions available to support people during emergencies. We found 300 valuable resources which are compiled in our report.

Q: Might some of these resources and interventions you found be applicable in other settings?

A: Yes, we were looking at a number of categories and we organized interventions in different ways, both by topic and by mode of delivery. If you go to NORC.org the study and resources are on our home page.

Q: What did you find to be the top needs of older adults?

A: The needs most identified were:

  • Social isolation
  • Fear of getting the virus
  • Technology – access, costs, help using it
  • Obtaining household and food supplies
  • Accessing healthcare services
  • Financial concerns

Q: Did you differentiate between older adults who are homebound and those who are not?

A: We did not make that differentiation, rather we just focused on community-dwelling individuals who were aged 50+

Q: We know that issues of equity are a major challenge both before and during the pandemic. What did your study find?

A: We did find several themes for subpopulations of older adults. Mental Health and financial security were major concerns for racial and ethnic minorities. People in rural areas were concerned about access to household supplies; there were greater challenges with food security; and access to broadband as technology became more important was a major issue.

Q: Was there anything that surprised you from this study?

A: Two things seem to rise to the top. The first was the importance of technology and how multi-faceted the needs were including access, cost, and techno-literacy. The second was identifying so many resources out there and recognizing how few people know about them.

Q: Would you tell us more about these resources?

A: We found many types of resources including:

  • Educational programs
  • Evidence-based and emerging interventions
  • Programs newly converted to online formats and implemented by many types of organizations
  • Mental health and emotional support

We hope that the way we have organized them makes it easy for people to find what they need.

Q: What did you learn were the caregivers’ top needs?

A: The caregivers were family and friends over the age of 18 who provided supports. They were concerned about the physical and mental health of the person in their care, but also their own physical and mental health. Many were worried about the virus - contracting it or passing it on. Caregivers said they often felt invisible while juggling many priorities. There were financial worries. And they expressed the need for respite which was even more limited than normal during the pandemic. I would direct people to a good resource – our one pager – Your Health and Wellbeing Matters.

Q: Many of those concerns sound like those we heard before the pandemic.

A: Yes, caregivers have had these concerns, but they were amplified during the pandemic. I would also note that more younger people are providing care during this pandemic.

Q: What can we learn for the future?

A: In reflecting on our study there are four main opportunities for the future:

  • Increase awareness of resources
  • Develop programs and resources to address needs of particular populations
  • Focus on technology – access, cost, literacy
  • Need to identify approaches to help caregivers gain access to respite

Q: What resources exist to help older adults and caregivers utilize new technologies to reduce isolation?

A: Our compendium identifies some resources related to using technology. But we also recognize that we need more materials and technology that is geared toward people who are not English speakers.

Q: What sources of information did older adults and caregivers use to understand issues related to the pandemic?

A: Different populations preferred to use different sources, including: television, online and radio news; healthcare providers; and social media which was used more by younger older adults. Some populations trusted different sources and also distrusted other sources. This suggests that it is important to used different modes and messengers to convey information.