Filling a Void: Addressing Needs for Older Adults and Caregivers During COVID-19

While the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people of all ages, older adults have been particularly affected. As many struggle to maintain social connections and meet their basic household needs, informal caregivers of elderly loved ones have also suffered as the pandemic disrupted traditional care.

To help, the CDC Foundation partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify and address gaps in services for older adults and their caregivers made worse during the pandemic. Findings from research conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago suggested many older adults, caregivers and community-based organizations were simply unaware of what resources existed to help. In addition, older adults often had difficulty physically accessing services.

For many, the challenges of navigating an entirely digital world were overwhelming.

Tom Kamber, executive director of Older Adults Technology Services from AARP

Bruce Fulton, executive director of Neighbor Ride

To address those needs, the CDC Foundation identified existing programs that could be expanded and partnered with service organizations offering support for older adults. To connect these organizations to the resources, the CDC Foundation worked with NORC and Burness to develop the Search. Find. Help. website, building off nearly 300 resources identified in the needs assessment to help address issues like social isolation, chronic conditions, caregiver support and emergency preparedness.

In all cases, these resources addressed health equity among disproportionately-affected populations, including racial and ethnic minorities, individuals with disabilities, rural and tribal populations, LGBT individuals, populations with limited English proficiency and socioeconomically-disadvantaged populations.

Identifying digital literacy of older adults and their caregivers as a priority, the CDC Foundation partnered with Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) from AARP, a New York-based nonprofit agency dedicated to helping older adults learn and use technology. OATS designed a six-week Digital Essential course targeting older adults and caregivers with free online classes covering topics like online safety, accessing online healthcare and how to connect through Facebook groups. Offered in Spanish and English, the Digital Essentials course was attended virtually by more than 500 participants.

“We created the Digital Essentials course in response to a need identified among older caregivers to have more access to digital training that can make everyday tasks easier,” said Tom Kamber, executive director of Older Adults Technology Services from AARP.

Additionally, the research identified a need for caregiver materials for Asian, Asian Pacific Islander and rural communities. With funding from CDC Foundation, AARP is customizing some of their resources for these populations and has made them available on their website.

The timing of this grant was just perfect. It allowed us to react very quickly and to create widespread services that have since become permanent.

For older adults and caregivers facing challenges physically accessing care and services due to COVID-19, the CDC Foundation provided funding to 10 community-based organizations across the country. Offering services ranging from respite care and emotional support services to meal preparation and transportation, the 10 community-based organizations shared a CDC Foundation grant to bolster, adapt and expand their services in the face of COVID-19.

For instance, Oregon-based nonprofit Ride Connection, which provides transportation support services to older adults in the Portland metro region, used its portion of the grant funding to expand its base of stand-by drivers, an essential need as regular schedules were disrupted by COVID-19.

“The CDC Foundation grant gave us an opportunity to add driver hours in a way we had never done it before,” said Julie Wilcke Pilmer, CEO of Ride Connection. “We are now able to have more stand-by drivers available for those last-minute requests we get.”

In addition, Pilmer said, Ride Connection was able to use some of the grant money to set up a business account on an app-based independent taxi service which can fill in to provide transport to Ride Connection clients when demand is high or drivers are unavailable.

For Maryland-based nonprofit Neighbor Ride, COVID-19 proved equally disruptive. A volunteer-based nonprofit offering free and reduced cost transport to local residents, Neighbor Ride turned largely to partnerships with local entities like food banks and the county office on aging to provide delivery services when COVID-19 struck. The grant, said Neighbor Ride Executive Director Bruce Fulton, allowed the organization to upgrade their business processes while expanding their services.

“The timing of this grant was just perfect,” Fulton said. “It allowed us to react very quickly and to create widespread services that have since become permanent.”

The COVID-19 pandemic created an immediate need for resources among America’s older adults and caregivers. Through a broad range of partnerships, this CDC Foundation project offered an opportunity to rapidly identify and meet those needs with critical programs and services.

Top photo: Courtesy of Ride Connection 

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