Unforeseen Opportunities Arise Out of COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about many unexpected changes this year. While in-person research visits, support groups, and wellness programs were all canceled to prevent the spread of the virus, our teams turned to technology to continue our work, as best as possible, virtually.

Below we summarize the adjustments we’ve made throughout the COVID-19 quarantine, and how, in some cases, the results were more positive than we could have anticipated.

Research visits transitioned to telephone “wellness checks”

While continuing research operations as usual was impossible during the initial months of quarantine, we turned to reaching out to each of our research participants by phone to check on their wellbeing during the pandemic. We called our nearly 500 research participants once or twice between March and April.

Holly Bunker, our Recruitment Coordinator who made many of these calls shared: “I had the pleasure of calling many of our Memory & Aging Project (UM-MAP) research participants following our country’s unprecedented lock down/quarantine. I think most people appreciated these calls, and often told me that they looked forward to hearing from me. A handful of our participants live alone and I was their only contact with the outside world. I loved that I was able to communicate to them that they weren’t forgotten and that we were here for them in some way.”

One research participant even shared that it was a “blessing” that our staff was reaching out during these trying times, stating “I am grateful to be part of an organization that reached beyond their needs and thought to check on us.” While this “wellness check” and telephone conversation sparked from the pandemic, we were happy to be able to connect with our research participants in a new and meaningful way.

Though in-person research visits have been canceled since March, some UMMAP visits have taken place over the phone in an abbreviated format. We were pleased to be able to continue our work with the flexibility of many of our research participants.

We have also been hard at work addressing how we can continue our UM-MAP research visits in an adjusted virtual format for the future.

Rinne Lewy Body Dementia Initiative & Wellness Initiative programs moved online, fostering new tools, connections

Our Lewy body dementia support groups, monthly Catching Your Breath wellness program for caregivers, and Mindfulness-based Dementia Care course all moved online to continue to support our participants throughout the changing COVID-19 environment. While technology presented some barriers to our participants that would normally meet in person, the opportunity for caregivers in Wellness programs and Lewy body dementia support groups to connect was a solace during what can only be referred to as unprecedented times.

Following her participation in one of our Wellness Initiative meditation programs, one caregiver shared, “Over the span of the pandemic and all the related changes, I had lost my ability to self soothe. Any little thing frustrated me and sent me into a rage or sobs. (Good thing it is just me and the cats here). After the mindfulness meditation, I felt calmer, which has lead me to feel better than I have in weeks.”

Similarly, Marilyn, a Lewy body dementia support group member
shared, “Thank you all for your efforts in connecting us. I actually found it
interesting and informative to be [meet] all the Michigan groups. In these
tough times it was a comfort in unity of purpose to our loved ones.”

New need sparks new program

Noticing the need for more frequent opportunities for connection, our Wellness team also utilized this time to launch a weekly mindfulness meditation practice on Thursdays. See page 4 for more information on the new Have a Seat program.

In-person events move online allowing for ongoing viewing
Lastly, we are always pleased to meet and see many of you in the community at our educational events. Given that these in-person events may not resume for some time, we hope that you will join us online for our monthly community lecture. We transitioned these events to a virtual format in May and have been pleased with their new format. If you’d like to take a look at past lectures online, please see page 12 for more information.

Though times have changed, we hope you know that we are here to support you, and anyone in the community who may need access to memory care resources. (Remember, a list of COVID-19 resources specifically for older adults is available on our website at alzheimers.med.umich.edu/covid19-resources). If you need anything, please do not hesitate to contact us.