COVID-19 Response

A Helping Hand

Dr. Maria Beam is helping ease isolation concerns for older adults' during COVID-19 pandemic

Community Engagement

icon of a calendarApril 17, 2020

icon of a pencilBy Michael Downes

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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a multitude of health issues for a variety of demographics but has been more severe in the older adult population. 

With the focus being on the individual's overall health, the mental health aspect can get lost in the shuffle. Oakland University and COVID Response have been working in tandem to help address those needs.

Jennifer Lucarelli, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of interdisciplinary health sciences at OU, contacted Maria Beam, Ph.D., director of social work, to create a system concentrated on older adults' mental health.

“We developed an older adult wellness check-in script for our volunteers when they call those in need,” explains Dr. Beam. “The script doesn’t necessarily provide health examinations, but offers someone to talk to and coordinate services.”

Dr. Beam worked closely with Cassandra Barragan, Ph.D., the director of aging studies at Eastern Michigan University, to create the two-and-a-half page script. 

“We worked in collaboration,” says Dr. Beam, “We actually have two scripts, one to train volunteers and students, and another for how organizations can adapt it to make social connections.”

The script touches on all subjects; from how their daily lives have changed, what shows they are watching and what they did that day. “This situation has created a need, more than ever, for individuals to reach out to the older adult population, even if it’s just an avenue to talk,” Dr. Beam says. 

The script goes deeper, ensuring that the individuals have the essentials that they need.

“We ask if they have someone there to provide them with their medications or groceries,” says Dr. Beam. “If not, we put them in contact with people who can coordinate those services.”

The 20-person volunteer team, made up of alumni, business partners and medical professionals, is set to grow. Two Oakland University medical students are trained to make phone calls. Once they are fully implemented, social work students will also get involved. 

“If a volunteer senses the person they are talking with may need additional referrals, they can help make that connection,” Dr. Beam explains. “The volunteers who are assigned to these individuals will ideally continue these relationships until the adult no longer wants it.”

Through this process, Dr. Beam has not lost focus on what’s most important. “Our main focus with this initiative is ensuring social connections are occurring,  ” says Dr. Beam. “Making sure that someone is reaching out to these older adults and addressing those necessary resources.”

For more information on how to receive or provide aid, visit COVID Response at mycovidresponse.org

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