September 30, 2020

Helping the helpers – impacts of COVID-19 on assisted-living residents, family, friends

Dr. Matthias Hoben. (Image courtesy University of Alberta)

How are residents in assisted-living facilities coping during the COVID -19 pandemic? What about their families and friends? These questions are the subject of a research project supported by Alberta Innovates.  

COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on older adults. But so far, most media and research attention has focused on long-term care with less attention paid to assisted living, a form of continuing care that has grown rapidly in provinces like Alberta and British Columbia. 

Dr. Matthias Hoben, assistant professor in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Alberta, and co-lead Dr. Colleen Maxwell from the University of Waterloo, are addressing this knowledge gap. Dr. Hoben explains how in this Q & A.   

Q: What aspect of COVID are you studying? 

A: Over 80 per cent of all COVID-19-related deaths in Canada occurred among older adults living in long-term care or in assisted/supportive living homes. Therefore, health authorities had to act fast and rigorously, which they did. But not allowing families and friends to visit their loved ones had severe, unintended consequences, such as loneliness and social isolation of residents, lack of advocacy and support provided by family members, even missed care and related consequences. While several studies have started to evaluate these issues in long-term care, assisted/supportive living settings have largely been neglected by research. Therefore, this study aims to understand the impact these measures have had on the involvement of family/friend caregivers in the care of residents in assisted or supportive living homes, and the consequences of these changes on the health and well-being of family and friends and residents. 

Q: What do you hope to learn from this research project? 

A: We hear from family and friends that they experienced stress and anxiety, that they missed their loved ones and worried about them. We want to know extent of the problem, the types and amount of these unintended consequences, and associated factors. We want to know how COVID-19 affected the mental health and well-being of the family/friend caregivers and their use of health-care services, and we want to know how assisted/supportive living homes responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and how they communicated with family/friend caregivers. 

Q: How will the knowledge gained help people? 

A: With better research, we hope to increase effective communication and engagement with family/friend caregivers, and to enhance staffing and services in future crises. The goal is to strike the right balance between preventing and controlling future outbreaks while maintaining the health and well-being of residents and their family and friends. Provincial decision-makers who can influence or decide how the system operates and advocates for family/friend caregivers are members of the study team. This will facilitate the implementation of our findings into critical improvements. 

Q: Describe the impact of the Alberta Innovates investment on your COVID research.  

A: In this study, we will conduct a survey with 1,000 family/friend caregivers across 120 assisted and supportive living homes in Alberta and British Columbia. We will also ask family/friend caregivers for permission to link their survey responses to other personal health data, such as health services they may have used and how this changed before and after the COVID lockdown in March. Plus, we will carry out a survey with each participating assisted and supportive living home. Alberta Innovates has provided our study team with the financial resources to carry out this important research. Furthermore, Alberta Innovates extends our own networks to help recruitment and ensure we have the right connections to accomplish all our study goals. 

Q: What are your next steps and when do you expect to have results? 

A: We have just started recruiting assisted and supportive living homes and family/friend caregiver participants. Our survey will commence in spring 2021, followed by an analysis of our data. We expect to see initial results in the summer of 2021. We will publish peer-reviewed research papers and disseminate important findings via social media. We will also generate reports to decision-makers and lay reports to family/friend caregivers and the interested public. 

If you know of anyone who would be interested in participating in our survey and meets the eligibility requirements below please feel free to forward this link to them.

Eligibility to participate in the survey:

  • You are a family/friend caregiver of a resident in Designated Supportive Living in Alberta or Assisted Living in British Columbia.
  • The resident is at least 65 years of age.
  • The resident has been in the facility for three or more months prior to March 1, 2020.

Sign me up!