HHS Medical Hero: Eunice Taylor
Research study reaches out to seniors isolated by the pandemic
Like many older adults, 83-year-old Eunice Taylor struggles to stay active and maintain her mobility.
Aging plays a role, with challenges including stiffer joints and difficulty walking. The pandemic hasn’t helped, with fewer opportunities for Eunice to socialize safely and take part in activities to keep her body moving.
When Eunice learned about a virtual research study looking into the best ways to help older adults maintain strength and independence while isolating at home during COVID-19, she was quick to enroll.
“I feel better by taking part in the study,” says Eunice, whose daughter Karen Scott helps her follow the online programming.“It’s helping me get better on my feet.”
Improving life for older adults
Eunice and Karen learned about the study through Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) St. Peter’s Hospital. It’s being conducted through the GERAS Centre for Aging Research, which is part of HHS and affiliated with McMaster University. GERAS’ mission is to make life better for older adults by bringing the best research to the frontlines of care as quickly as possible.
Funding for this study comes from the McMaster COVID-19 Research Fund and the Juravinski Research Institute, in partnership with the HHS and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton Foundations and McMaster University.
“We know that some seniors were housebound and struggled to get out before the pandemic.”
The GERAS Virtual Frailty Rehab at Home Study is working to understand the best ways to help older adults improve their health, and maintain strength and independence while physically distancing at home during COVID.
The study is taking place virtually through phone visits and video conferencing. It involves older adults ages 65 plus who have lost energy or strength during the pandemic. This could include a slower walking pace or difficulty climbing stairs. Participation is free and covers 12 weeks. Such studies are leading to better outcomes for patients and would not be possible without volunteers like Eunice.
“We know that some seniors were housebound and struggled to get out before the pandemic,” says Dr. Alexandra Papaioannou, GERAS’ executive director. “COVID just made it much, much worse.”
Participants are randomly divided into two groups. The first group receives a half-hour phone call from a McMaster medical student volunteer once a week for 12 weeks. Phone calls help with social isolation that the older adult might be feeling.
The second group receives these phone visits, plus online group exercise sessions twice a week, physiotherapy online appointments every other week, a one-hour online nutritional appointment that includes receiving free daily protein supplements, and a one-hour online pharmacist appointment to discuss medications. Eunice was randomly selected for this second group.
When the pandemic arrived over a year ago, Eunice was living alone in a Toronto apartment. But with no end to COVID in sight, she moved in with Karen and her husband in their Hamilton Mountain home. “My mom isn’t completely isolated because she has us for company,” says Karen. “But she misses her friends and volunteer work, and because of the pandemic she hasn’t been able to make new friends here in Hamilton.”
“They’re helping improve her mobility.”
Eunice especially likes the study’s online exercise and physiotherapy sessions. “They’re helping improve her mobility,” says Karen, who joins her mom for the virtual classes in the family’s spare room/exercise area to keep her company and provide support if needed. Karen also helps her mom apply what she learns to everyday activities.
“In class, participants practice using their `marching feet’ so they don’t shuffle or trip,” says Karen. “My mom uses a walker, and when we’re outside for walks I remind her to use her marching feet. These kinds of trigger words have been really helpful.”
Eunice and Karen also appreciated the opportunity to speak with an HHS pharmacist. “My mom’s not big on taking medications but after speaking to the pharmacist she agreed to consider taking a medication to help with her memory,” says Karen.
Why moving matters
As older adults start slowing down, losing muscle strength and feeling more fatigued, they are more susceptible to other health issues.
“For example, if a person gets a urinary tract infection when they’re middle aged, they don’t end up in hospital,” says Papaioannou. “But you do when you’re frail because you just don’t have the reserves. It’s like having no gas in the tank of your car. An older adult could start a new drug, not be able to tolerate it and end up becoming confused or having a fall.”
Study participants are being recruited until the end of May. Anyone interested can call 905-521-2100 ext. 12232 or email research assistant Karen Thompson at email@example.com or junior research coordinator Jessica Belgrave Sookhoo at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, please visit the GERAS Centre at: gerascentre.ca.
HHS is recognized as one of the world’s leading health sciences research organizations. The HHS Medical Heroes series celebrates the contributions of clinical trial volunteers like Eunice in the advancement of medical knowledge gained through studies that help with detecting, diagnosing, treating and preventing diseases. Medical Heroes stories are running throughout May, in recognition of International Clinical Trials Day on May 20.