Sask. Polytechnic study dives into emotional, social challenges faced by seniors during COVID-19 pandemic

Results from a Saskatchewan Polytechnic study indicate the range of emotional and social challenges seniors have endured through the COVID-19 pandemic.

A team of researchers and nursing student research assistants interviewed 40 seniors age 60 years and older back in the spring on their experience of social isolation during the pandemic. Each person was interviewed three times throughout the spring.

Heather Nelson, the research chair for vulnerable populations at Sask. Polytech, said they knew seniors were physically vulnerable to the virus, but they wanted to learn more on their vulnerability to loneliness. She said this was their way of learning how seniors coped with isolation.

“People were saying they were feeling like they were in jail when they were locked in their homes. Other people coped fairly well,” noted Nelson. “They really missed their every day activities, their social groups, going out for a drive to get groceries. All of those things.”

Respondents reported emotional challenges such as anxiety and low-mood due to disruptions in their routine, the inability to visit with friends and family and a lack of regular exercise. The study found that seniors used coping methods to stay connected with the people in their life including the use of technology, and stayed physically active by walking outdoors and gardening.

But now that the pandemic is dragging into the winter months and new case numbers continue to climb, Nelson suggested it’s crucial for senior citizens to refocus on the coping mechanisms utilized during the spring lockdown.

Nelson said what she learned from the research project is the importance of making decisions that support senior health during COVID-19.

“We need to make sure we’re supporting seniors. As for seniors, they need to exercise, they need to use their supports, they need to communicate with friends,” she added.

Other tips Nelson has for seniors include engaging in hobbies, staying engaged with church and community groups, volunteering, keeping a regular routine and reaching out for help when needed.

The research group is looking at interviewing people again and hosting a virtual social group for seniors.

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