By: Esther Liu, Contributor

The Silhouette: What is the IMPACT study?

Marla Beauchamp: With the start of COVID-19 and the public health recommendations on social distancing and staying home as much as possible, one of the things that concerned us was: “How could this be affecting older peoples’ mobility and their social participation?”

We know that mobility is a really really critical aspect of health for older people and when you lose mobility, you’re at risk of falling, of negative health outcomes, of hospitalization. So our team wanted to understand the impact of these social distancing recommendations on peoples’ mobility and participation over time. 

Marla Beaucamp

Brenda Vrkljan: Our sample is focused on people in Hamilton and one of the things that we wanted to do with this study was to be very thoughtful about who is gonna be included in the study. We aim to have a random sample, but that’s a very loose term because when you say “I want a random sample,” it’s not really that random because you still need to obtain informed consent and those kinds of things [and] you still need to recruit people. But what we did was we sampled people in different areas of the city, different economic statuses, different social determinants of health. 

How did this study come into existence?

Beauchamp: I do a lot of work with people with chronic Lyme disease. Some of the guidelines for people include that you should remain at home completely, you should not go out at all. And so I was really concerned that we were telling people not to move, right? And I wanted to understand the impact of staying at home and not going about doing their usual activities, what that could do to their health.

So that was part of the reason for doing it. Also, Brenda and I are always talking about ways that we can support older people to live in their homes and to live independently. So if we were going to think more long term about this pandemic, we really needed to understand what has been the impact: what are people doing, what are people noticing? 

Vrkljan: Like any good idea, there tends to be what I called the idea stack. So, Marla goes: “I have an idea,” and I go: “Oh what if we did this too?”. This might draw some other people in too and then what hopefully happens is that it’s picked up in a better place. One thing we have is that we involve older adults in our initiatives. Of course, we might talk to our families, but that’s not quite the same as talking to somebody who’s not so close to us.

Marla and I have parents who are aging. . . and we also had an older adult partner who said that we’re asking her lots of questions, but one thing that we’re missing out on was the impact of the quarantine. We were missing out on the experience of living through a quarantine. So we’ve added interviews to our study with questions about their lives before the pandemic, during the pandemic and how they foresee their lives after the pandemic.

We’re calling it the trilogy approach — it’s not quite Star Wars — but this idea of thinking about your life in segments and trying to understand how people manage is our next step. We want to see what strategies people are using that are helping them do really well and see if those strategies could be implemented to help more people.

We’re calling it the trilogy approach — it’s not quite Star Wars — but this idea of thinking about your life in segments and trying to understand how people manage is our next step. We want to see what strategies people are using that are helping them do really well and see if those strategies could be implemented to help more people. 

What are some highlights from the study so far?

Vrkljan: As an occupational therapist, I’m very interested in things that occupy peoples’ time — their ability to do things that are important to them. For example, being able to get out to Tim Horton’s could be really important to some people, that could be where you get your socialization. When you can’t do those things, it could mean that you’re not getting rest, that you’re not moving around as much. So together, we’re very interested in how people manage their mobility and manage their social participation because we want to leverage that.

Resilience is something . . . interesting as well. It’s interesting to see that some of our participants actually reported that they’re having such a hard time that they would actually have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s not a diagnosis, but it’s a real struggle. Now, we don’t know how they were doing before, but we just had their snapshot in time.

Brenda Vrkljan

Beauchamp: I just want to emphasize that it is a small proportion of people, but obviously concerning still and not nontrivial. Another big concern with our study is that almost half of respondents said that they were very worried about falling and of the people that had a fall in previous years, almost 40% said they had a fall in the last 30 days. That is a high number of calls during a pandemic where you’re supposed to be with your family at home and less in the community.

So it just speaks to the fact that if you’re less active and you do have problems with mobility, it can really have an impact on your health. These are all routes highlighted by the survey that are going to be important concerns going forward as we come out of the pandemic. 

Images courtesy of Hamilton Spectator and Georgia Kirkos

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