Student’s project could help relieve a growing health crisis.

Senior nursing student Kylie Beausoleil enjoys spending time with older people. She likes hearing elders’ stories and building rapport, while also attending to their needs. That was her favorite part of working at a home health care agency last summer, and what she enjoys most about her research project this summer at UVM.

Beausoleil, Professional Nursing '21, is helping older adults use Zoom video conferencing software to participate in discussions with nursing students in a gerontology course. Conversing with older people helps students practice listening skills and provides a direct lens into the individual aging experience, said professor Jason Garbarino, who teaches the course. Beausoleil and Garbarino want to determine how the experience affects the older adults, and what they gain from sharing their wisdom and stories with college students.

For her research, Beausoleil will survey participants’ feelings about social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic and ask whether they will continue using Zoom to communicate with friends and family going forward. The videoconferencing technology could allow older people to socialize with neighbors, see friends and play with grandchildren. For those unable to leave their quarters, these video chats can be a lifeline to social support.

“With the pandemic, a lot of people are experiencing what it’s like to be stuck at home not seeing other people. With this project, we are reaching a community that is even more isolated, possibly dealing with acute illness or memory challenges,” Beausoleil said.

The coronavirus pandemic highlights a terrible irony for older adults: Steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 increase the risks of social isolation, which carries its own negative health effects.

“Social isolation among older adults is a growing public health crisis,” Dr. Garbarino said. “The Health Resources and Services Administration reported 43% of older adults feel lonely on a regular basis, and there is a 45% increased risk of mortality in older adults who feel lonely. Loneliness is more dangerous than obesity and as damaging to health as smoking fifteen cigarettes daily.”

Beausoleil’s project could lay the groundwork for older adults, post-pandemic, to be able to visit with family and friends, share their stories and enjoy in-person interaction without having to travel or leave the safety of their homes. That’s the part Beausoleil looks forward to most.

“One of the greatest things about being a nurse is being able to talk to people and offer companionship. The older community, especially, has so much to share,” Beausoleil said. “I like learning about their lives and their families, getting to know them and helping them continue to live the life they want to live. This is where I feel I can really flourish as a nurse.”

Vermont resident Jane Allen, age 68, looks forward to participating in the project. “I am excited for the opportunity to engage in some guided reflection across areas of my life in an interactive manner, potentially contributing to enhancing understanding of the varied ways people adapt to and navigate the aging process,” Allen said. “Platforms like Zoom can be extremely useful in maintaining critical social interactions in this extraordinary time.”

Beausoleil’s work is supported by a Simon Family Public Research Award, which provides grants to students responding to problems in the community. She will present her findings at the UVM Student Research Conference in May, and she will work with Dr. Garbarino to publish them in a peer-reviewed journal.

To become involved with Beausoleil’s project, email kbeausol@uvm.edu.

PUBLISHED

08-12-2020
Janet Lynn Essman Franz