Health impacts of the stay-at-home order on community-dwelling older adults and how technologies may help: Focus group study
Background: As of March 2021, in the USA, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in over 500,000 deaths, with a majority being people over 65 years of age. Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, preventive measures, including lockdowns, social isolation, quarantine, and social distancing, have been implemented to reduce viral spread. These measures, while effective for risk prevention, may contribute to increased social isolation and loneliness among older adults and negatively impact their mental and physical health. Objective: This study aimed to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting “Stay-at-Home” order on the mental and physical health of older adults and to explore ways to safely increase social connectedness among them. Methods: This qualitative study involved older adults living in a Continued Care Senior Housing Community (CCSHC) in southern California, USA. Four 90-minute focus groups were convened using the Zoom Video Communications platform during May 2020, involving 21 CCSHC residents. Participants were asked to describe how they were managing during the “stay-at-home” mandate that was implemented in March 2020, including its impact on their physical and mental health. Transcripts of each focus group were analyzed using qualitative methods. Results: Four themes emerged from the qualitative data: (1) impact of the quarantine on health and well-being, (2) communication innovation and technology use, (3) effective ways of coping with the quarantine, and (4) improving access to technology and training. Participants reported a threat to their mental and physical health directly tied to the quarantine and exacerbated by social isolation and decreased physical activity. Technology was identified as a lifeline for many who are socially isolated from their friends and family. Conclusions: Our study findings suggest that technology access, connectivity, and literacy are potential game-changers to supporting the mental and physical health of older adults and must be prioritized for future research.