Expert Pitch
Virginia Tech

Expert in aging offers tips for interacting with older family and friends during COVID-19 spread

20-Mar-2020 2:30 PM EDT, by Virginia Tech

A Virginia Tech expert in gerontology — the study of old age and the process of aging — encourages families to stay connected with their older loved ones while practicing social distancing, even as new challenges increase the complexity of staying in touch.

“Staying socially engaged is a critical part of healthy aging, and maintaining social connections combats loneliness and depression. Research has shown an association between meaningful social engagement and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, lower blood pressure, and sharper cognitive skills,” says Karen Roberto, a University Distinguished Professor, senior fellow at the Virginia Tech Center for Gerontology, and founding director of the Virginia Tech Institute for Society, Culture and Environment.

“Conversely, social isolation and feelings of loneliness increases behavioral health problems such as sleep disturbance, depressive symptoms, and fatigue in older adults,” Roberto says. “Think of positive social interactions as exercise for the mind and soul: it boosts morale, reduces risk for depression, eases anxiety, helps keep the mind alert, and puts a smile on people’s face.”

Roberto notes that while about 70 percent of older adults report being digitally connected, their level of engagement varies not only according to personal characteristics and preferences, but by ease of use and access. 

“Now may be a good time to introduce older family members who have previously been resistant or uninterested in using the internet or digital technology to enhance or support communication with loved ones far and near.”

For novice technology users, the key is to keep things simple, at least to start, Roberto says. 

  • “Start from where they are, avoid technospeak, write down directions, and have them practice, practice, practice.”
  • “Under typical circumstances older adults often regularly schedule ‘check-in’ time to interact with their children, grandchildren, siblings, friends, and others via phone calls, email, FaceTime and other video platforms. Now, these remote gatherings are even more important. Older people look forward to these interactions as they allow them to be part of their family’s and friend’s life in real time.
  • Conversely, it often gives adult children and others peace of mind to be able to talk with and virtually see that their older family member or friend is doing well.”
  • “Brief interactions with older adults over the course of the day can be as effective as longer visits. A quick call, text, or video chat to share a funny story, ask a question, provide a reminder, comment on the day’s episode of a favorite TV show, or share a picture helps keep older persons connected, even if they are unable to be in the same place as their family and friends.”
  • “While older adults need to stay informed about COVID-19, what isn’t helpful is to have the pandemic become the primary focus of their social interactions.”

“For families caring for a relative with dementia, the challenges and uncertainties associated with COVID-19 raise new concerns in their already stressful lives. Many families have come to rely on home-and-community based services such as adult day services, respite care, home care, and transportation services to assist them with the care of their relative,” Roberto says. “Families need to be putting in place alternative plans should these services become unavailable or reduced in response to the need for social distancing. Back-up care plans also need to be made in case a home care worker or primary family caregiver becomes sick.” 

About Roberto

Karen Roberto is a Virginia Tech University Distinguished Professor, senior fellow at the Virginia Tech Center for Gerontology, and founding director of the Virginia Tech Institute for Society, Culture and Environment. Among other research areas, she focuses specifically on the psychosocial aspects of aging, health and relationships in later life, family caregiving and Alzheimer’s disease/dementia, rural aging, and elder abuse and neglect. See her bio

Our studio

Finding reliable experts for media interviews is especially important during this difficult time. Virginia Tech's television and radio studios can broadcast live HD audio and video to networks, news outlets, and affiliates interviewing Virginia Tech faculty and staff. The university does not charge for use of its studios. Video is transmitted by LTN Global Communications; Skype, FaceTime, or similar products; or file sharing (Dropbox, Google Drive, We-Transfer, etc.). Radio interviews can be transmitted by ISDN, Comrex, phone, smartphone recording, or file sharing.  

Filters close

Showing results

110 of 1995
Newswise: COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition Launches COVID-19 Decision Support Dashboard
Released: 29-May-2020 9:00 AM EDT
COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition Launches COVID-19 Decision Support Dashboard
COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition

The new COVID-19 Decision Support Dashboard synthesizes large amounts of complex, essential data into easy-to-use key findings for public and private-sector leaders navigating the “reopening” of communities and businesses.

Released: 29-May-2020 9:00 AM EDT
Online, or On-Campus? Returning to School After COVID: Newswise Live Event for June 4, 2PM EDT

Will schools reopen in the fall? If schools remain closed, what will be the impact on students’ education, long-term? How has the pandemic already impacted students, from elementary through higher ed; how are schools at all levels adapting to teaching virtually, and how to safely return to teaching in person - June 4, 2020 from 2-3 PM EDT

Released: 29-May-2020 6:50 AM EDT
Those with IDD more likely to die from COVID-19, study shows
Syracuse University

A new study published recently in ScienceDirect by researchers from Syracuse University and SUNY Upstate Medical University shows that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are more likely to die from COVID-19 than those without IDD.

Newswise: Invention by a Finnish start-up speeds up coronavirus testing
Released: 29-May-2020 6:25 AM EDT
Invention by a Finnish start-up speeds up coronavirus testing
Aalto University

An Aalto University spinoff company has come up with a way to use existing lab microscopes in a completely new and much more effective way with their innovation of nanocoated glass. While this is very relevant to covid19 research, it holds great promise for many other viruses and diseases

Newswise: Tourism: what’s our new normal?
Released: 29-May-2020 6:20 AM EDT
Tourism: what’s our new normal?
University of South Australia

After months of lockdown, it’s no surprise that people are itching to get out and about. But with ongoing debates about how and when to open Australia’s state and territory borders, it’s hard to know what to expect.

Newswise: Calibrated approach to AI and deep learning models could more reliably diagnose and treat disease
Released: 29-May-2020 6:05 AM EDT
Calibrated approach to AI and deep learning models could more reliably diagnose and treat disease
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

In a recent preprint (available through Cornell University’s open access website arXiv), a team led by a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory computer scientist proposes a novel deep learning approach aimed at improving the reliability of classifier models designed for predicting disease types from diagnostic images, with an additional goal of enabling interpretability by a medical expert without sacrificing accuracy. The approach uses a concept called confidence calibration, which systematically adjusts the model’s predictions to match the human expert’s expectations in the real world.

Newswise: Researchers Develop Experimental Rapid COVID-19 Test Using Innovative Nanoparticle Technique
Released: 28-May-2020 6:35 PM EDT
Researchers Develop Experimental Rapid COVID-19 Test Using Innovative Nanoparticle Technique
University of Maryland Medical Center

Scientists from the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) developed an experimental diagnostic test for COVID-19 that can visually detect the presence of the virus in 10 minutes. It uses a simple assay containing plasmonic gold nanoparticles to detect a color change when the virus is present. The test does not require the use of any advanced laboratory techniques, such as those commonly used to amplify DNA, for analysis. The authors published their work last week in the American Chemical Society’s nanotechnology journal ACS Nano.

Released: 28-May-2020 6:05 PM EDT
Tackling airborne transmission of COVID-19 indoors
University of Surrey

Preventing airborne transmission of Covid-19 should be the next front of the battle against the virus, argue experts from the University of Surrey.

access_time Embargo lifts in 2 days
Embargo will expire: 1-Jun-2020 11:00 AM EDT Released to reporters: 28-May-2020 5:40 PM EDT

A reporter's PressPass is required to access this story until the embargo expires on 1-Jun-2020 11:00 AM EDT The Newswise PressPass gives verified journalists access to embargoed stories. Please log in to complete a presspass application. If you have not yet registered, please Register. When you fill out the registration form, please identify yourself as a reporter in order to advance to the presspass application form.

Showing results

110 of 1995