Dr. Rick Sawatzky Studies Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic for Older Adults

LANGLEY, B.C. – Trinity Western University’s Dr. Rick Sawatzky analyzes the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on health outcomes and healthcare experiences as reported by frail older adults who are living at home, and their family caregivers – providing vital data to improve healthcare services for older adults. This research is part of the program, Impact of COVID-19 on Health Outcomes and Healthcare Experiences, funded by the British Columbia Academic Health Science Network (BC AHSN).

Uncovering Social Impacts of COVID-19 Pandemic among Older Adults and Caregivers

In the months since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a public health emergency and then a pandemic, much attention has understandably been focused on the rapidly rising numbers of infected, sick and dying individuals around the world.

There has been less focus on the impact of the pandemic, including social/physical distancing and other public safety measures, on the quality of life for older adults in the community.

Dr. Rick Sawatzky and his research group from Trinity Western University are using quality of life (QOL) assessment tools to better understand the social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on frail older adults who are living at home.

“In a nutshell, quality of life tools consists of questions used to find out how people are doing, in terms of aspects of their health and healthcare experiences that are relevant to their quality of life,” Dr. Sawatzky explains.

The project involves using an online system for quality of life assessments of older adults who are living with chronic illnesses and receiving home care services, as well as of their caregivers.

Previous to COVID-19, many frail older adults who are living at home were already at increased risk for reduced quality of life due to physical and mental health challenges. There is concern that social isolation and many associated challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic could have further undesired consequences for their physical, mental and social health.

Dr. Sawatzky has recently finished data collection on a project investigating quality of life for patients living at home, family caregivers, health care professionals and decision-makers. This four-year endeavour was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and conducted in partnership with Fraser Health Authority.

This summer, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Sawatzky’s research work is expanding.

In light of COVID-19, Dr. Sawatzky and his team have been tasked with extending the project to provide ongoing quality of life assessments, to better understand how frail older adults who are receiving home care services may have been impacted by the pandemic and practices like social distancing.

This information is critical for developing strategies that will prevent or address the needs of older adults living with frailty and their caregivers during future COVID-19 waves of infection or future epidemics or pandemics.

Dr. Sawatzky’s research also covers the quality of life of family caregivers.

“Family caregivers’ quality of life may also be affected,” he notes, “as they are themselves dealing with the challenges of living through a pandemic, while caring for an at-risk family member or friend with less available supports.”

More importantly, Dr. Sawatzky’s research addresses the value of life for older adults, “It matters whether you are treated with dignity and respect, and involved in decision-making, the way you want to be.”

Funded by British Columbia Academic Health Science Network (BC AHSN), this the extension of Dr. Sawatzky’s research during the COVID-19 pandemic includes a number of Trinity Western University students working in partnership with University of Alberta’s School of Nursing.

Rachel Jerome (Bachelor of Science in Nursing, 2021) is one of the TWU students involved, and she shares, “Working on this project has allowed me to understand and appreciate how research has shaped nursing practice and protocols.”

“The most meaningful part of my job is being a part of the bigger picture to hopefully increase the quality of life of older adults living with chronic illnesses and their family caregivers.”

Reflecting on her interactions with older adults, Jerome notes, “Something that seems to be a theme among all of my conversations with the older adults is extreme loneliness during the pandemic. I enjoying talking to them over the phone because it gives them someone with whom to express their feelings.”

Even as society continues to practice social distancing, Jerome encourages people to call or reach out to an older adult in their life, because, as she observes, “They may also be feeling lonely during this time.”

This project is now underway, and will operate on a tight timeline. Data collection has begun, and the team’s goal is to finish by October 2020 and to publish results in the fall.

The information collected will be important for developing strategies that will address quality of life needs of older adults and their family caregivers during future COVID-19 waves of infection or future epidemics or pandemics.

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About Trinity Western University

Founded in 1962, Trinity Western University is Canada’s premier Christian liberal arts university dedicated to equipping students to find and fulfill their purpose in life. It is a fully accredited research institution offering liberal arts and sciences, as well as professional schools in business, nursing, education, human kinetics, graduate studies, and arts, media, and culture. TWU emphasizes academic excellence, research, and student engagement in a vibrant faith community devoted to supporting godly leaders seeking to have a transformational impact on culture.

See also: Trinity Western University - Overview and Fact Sheet

For media inquiries, please contact media@twu.ca.

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