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Older adults who live in senior living communities and took part in a recent study overwhelmingly felt positive about their experience during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Taylor Patskanick, a researcher at AgeLab, a multidisciplinary research program at MIT. Patskanick discussed the study findings during the Gerontological Society of America 2020 Annual Scientific Meeting Online.

In March, AgeLab began a series of telephone interviews and online surveys with its MIT AgeLab 85+ Lifestyle Leaders, a panel of adults aged 85 and older, to get a better idea of how the pandemic affected day-to-day life for older adults. Panel members were asked about the degree of exposure to and trust in information about COVID-19, personal risk perception, perceptions of the public response to coronavirus, their engagement in various behaviors like travel and purchasing, and COVID-related changes within seniors housing, Patskanick said. The senior housing residents on the panel said they felt positive about their pandemic experience because they participated in passive activities, a social worker was on call for crises, and they enjoyed frequent contact with staff members, who they described as “supportive” and “thoughtful,” she said.

Previous research shows that social isolation is associated with increased mortality rates in older adults. In the face of the novel coronavirus, however, social distancing was prescribed as a lifesaving measure for older adults. Members of the panel admitted fears about the impacts of coronavirus on their physical, socioemotional and financial wellbeing, Patskanick said. But they also displayed stability in several areas, including participating in online exercise classes and staying in contact with loved ones.

The panel’s answers to questions about coping during the pandemic also confirmed that “older adults have lifetime experiences contributing to and building resileience during crisis events,” she said, including polio epidemic of the 1940s and 1950s, the Great Depression, the Holocaust and Hitler, Pearl Harbor, WWII iin Eastern Europe and norovirus outbreaks in senior living communities. The implications of the findings, Patskanick said, include the need to adopt policies and practices to “myth bust” early in a crisis, view crises and interventions through older adults’ mortality awareness lens, and include socioemotional wellness in response efforts.

“Once we meet basic needs in disaster response — food, water and shelter — then we do need to turn our attention to include socioemotional wellness and trauma healing, as well as technology and cybersecurity, as the next set of tiers when we think about response form there,” she said.