Maintaining Physical and Mental Well-Being of Older Adults and Their Caregivers During Public Health Emergencies

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a public health emergency (PHE) that disproportionately affects older adults and their unpaid caregivers. NORC at the University of Chicago, and its partners TMNcorp and Burness, completed a 2020 study on behalf of the National Foundation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC Foundation) with technical assistance from CDC to identify the needs and concerns of community-dwelling older adults (ages 50+ years) and their unpaid caregivers in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study had a special focus on disproportionately affected populations, including racial and ethnic minorities, individuals with disabilities, rural populations, tribal populations, populations with limited English proficiency, and socioeconomically disadvantaged populations. The project also included an extensive search of publicly available literature to identify U.S. programs, policies, and strategies to support the physical and mental health of community-dwelling older adults and their caregivers during COVID-19 and other public health emergencies.

Formative Research

NORC conducted two formative research activities: a needs assessment and an environmental scan. For the needs assessment, NORC conducted a nationally representative survey of older adults, focus groups of older adults and their caregivers, stakeholder interviews, a stakeholder survey, secondary data analysis of U.S. caregiver surveys, and social data listening, to understand the needs and concerns of older adults and unpaid caregivers during COVID-19. For the environmental scan, NORC identified over 300 public health strategies and interventions to support the physical and mental well-being of community-dwelling older adults and their unpaid caregivers during public health emergencies, covering the interrelated topics of: 1) deconditioning (the loss of muscle tone and endurance due to chronic disease, immobility, or loss of function); 2) deferral of medical care; 3) management of chronic conditions; 4) social isolation; 5) elder abuse and neglect; and 6) caregiving.

Findings were synthesized into a final report; an executive summary; a caregiver infographic highlighting key findings; and a caregiver one-pager of resources, available in English and Spanish.

Implementation

The formative research study identified hundreds of resources that could help older adults and their caregivers. However, there was a need to centralize the resources and connect them to organizations that could use them. In the second phase of the project, NORC and its partner, Burness, developed an online resource library called Search. Find. Help. to connect organizations to existing resources that can help older adults and their caregivers before, during, and after an emergency.

Search. Find. Help. allows organizations to identify existing resources, including interventions, policies, programs, and strategies in the U.S. that can help these populations during public health emergencies such as disease outbreaks like COVID-19, natural disasters, and severe weather. Search. Find. Help. also includes an action plan to help organizations select, adapt, implement, and evaluate programs to meet the needs of their communities.

This is a CDC Foundation project, utilizing donor funds from the flexible COVID-19 Response Fund.