Blog Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging

Zooming and aging: Empirical research in the time of COVID

Written by Nahom Zewde, BA candidate at Earlham College, Indiana; participant in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research ProgramAging and Neurological Diseases Track

I am currently a pre-medical student at Earlham College, studying Biochemistry and Mathematics. Alongside my academics, I am involved in many volunteering activities, at a skilled nursing facility and a state hospital that focuses on enhancing patients’ mental health. My interest in advancing the care I provide to the elderly at my volunteer sites and my curiosity to learn more about neurological disorders are the two main reasons for my decision to participate in this research program.

Although, due to COVID-19, I could not gain an in-person summer research experience, I learned a lot about various topics related to aging and neurological disorders. A few of my favorite topics from the research were Alzheimer’s disease and the current public health crisis resulting from the noble COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, being able to have discussions with PhD as well as MD/PhD candidates regarding their experience pursuing graduate studies, helped consolidate my understanding of the graduate school experience.

One of my favorite topics, “Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Related Dementias”, was covered by Matthew Wynn, a graduate student working in the Clinical Geropsychology Lab of Brian Carpenter, MD/PhD.

In our Zoom session, I was able to understand the various types of Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, the symptoms, and how caregivers can slow down the disease’s progression in patients. As a volunteer caring for those who have Alzheimer’s disease, and who is planning on pursuing geriatric care as a future career, covering this topic was exceptionally insightful. Learning about the manifestations of the illness allowed me to reflect on the symptoms I witness while volunteering and how I should approach those who exhibit similar symptoms in the future.

Another lesson I learned was the relationship between music and mental health in older adults. Understanding the critical role music plays in improving mental dexterity in older adults, thus slowing down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, was not something I had considered before participating in this research program.

Nancy Morrow-Howell, PhD, MSW, an international leader in Gerontology, covered an interesting topic on how the current global pandemic is related to ageism, which is prevalent in our society. One aspect I thought was interesting was how certain stereotypes about aging influence younger people to not take the necessary precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19. I was previously not aware of these types of concealed factors that contribute to the spread of the virus.

Overall, I had a great experience as a participant in this research program. Covering various topics in great detail and having discussions to broaden my understanding of those topics has immensely increased my passion for geriatric care. Although the research did not take the original route planned pre-COVID, I am grateful for the smooth and well-organized experience I had.

This post is part of the Summer Research Program blog series at the Institute for Public Health. Subscribe to email updates or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.