Edward Alan Miller

Edward Alan Miller

The devastating impact of COVID-19 on older adults is hardly news now, but researchers around the world continue to provide new insights and perspective on the deadly pandemic.

A new special double edition of the Journal of Aging & Social Policy contains 17 articles highlighting some of that work. Contributions to the issue, “The COVID-19 Pandemic and Older Adults: Experiences, Impacts and Innovations,” include seven articles reporting on original empirical research as well as 10 more offering commentary and perspective regarding the impact on older adults.

“We need to fully understand the myriad of ways in which COVID-19 affected older adults, their families, communities and caregivers,” said Edward Alan Miller, the editor of JASP and chair of the Gerontology Department at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

“The articles in this special edition provide important information and perspective – from across the country and around the world — that can help us draw lessons for aging policy and practice going forward,” said Miller.

The deadly impact of the pandemic on older adults remains grim yet startling. Adults age 65 and older represent about 16.6 percent of the U.S. population but accounted for 79.4 percent of COVID-19 fatalities. The pandemic death toll among older adults reached 482,727 this year.

Beyond the medical threat of serious illness or death, the pandemic posed other challenges as well for older adults. Greater social problems, particularly isolation, and hardships based on racial and ethnic disparities were also evident.

Articles in the new JASP special edition focus on four general areas of inquiry: Assessing personal experiences with COVID-19, elucidating the impact of the pandemic on long-term care systems, examining end-of-life care during the crisis and proposing technologies and innovations in the wake of the coronavirus.

Six articles focus on personal experiences during the pandemic, primarily in relation to community-dwelling older adults but also with respect to family caregivers in formal care settings.

Those articles highlight negative pandemic effects including social isolation, loneliness, anxiety, person-place fit, stigmatization and reactions to age-based policies and pandemic-imposed visitation restrictions.

Five other articles address the impact of COVID-19 on long-term care, mainly with respect to nursing homes. Three focus on system impacts in the U.S., Italy and Japan. Another reports on the results of a cross-country comparison of six nations and a fifth looks at the implications on the flow of workers between countries (Poland and Germany).

Two articles focused on the role of end-of-life care in the COVID-19 era address advanced care planning and the role of palliative care supporting older adults with multi-morbidity during the pandemic.

Four other articles advocate the adoption of new technologies and innovations as a result of social distancing, lock-downs, restrictions on visitation and travel guidelines responding to the pandemic. Two focus on communication between community-dwelling older adults and clinicians. Another recommends communication and social technologies to improve person-centered care in institutional settings. Another recommends spatial redesign strategies to improve memory care in residential care settings.

The JASP double-edition is a follow-up to the journal’s first special COVID-19 issue published in 2020. Miller said new pandemic-related articles are under review and additional submissions continue to arrive weekly.

“Given all that volume, we anticipate a third special issue next year,” he said.