Cover story for Pulse@UM Year 2020 Issue 3: Health at the crossroads – An interdisciplinary approach

Virtual Exercises with Older Adults: The CAMHEP-PISA initiative

By Professor Dr Tan Maw Pin

With the COVID-19 movement restrictions orders, many of us are having difficulties juggling work and household responsibilities- childcare, virtual classes or loss of paid helpers. Others are more unfortunate, especially those working with the private sector who are experiencing loss of income. However, it is at times like this that society pulls together, despite having challenges of our own. This is the time to have more people to volunteer and among those who are still employed or with savings, to donate goods and money. At the same time,  everyone should stay as healthy as possible, to avoid burdening the healthcare system. 

However, little is known of the potential impact of our movement restriction orders on the  psychosocial health of our older community. The heightened risk of severe COVID-19 illness for older persons will undoubtedly lead to fear amongst the older population and those who look out for them. This may be further compounded by both self-imposed and enforced isolation from our various categories of movement restriction. While the general public are advised to practice physical distancing, older people are advised to stay at home to avoid physical contact since they are the most vulnerable group. This is where #UMPrihatin or the “Caring For Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic (CaMHeP)” project with an extension of a Seniors arm comes in. The Ageing and Age-Associated Disorders Research group was invited to contribute to this important research initiative which began in April 2020 to mitigate the potential psychological effect of the pandemic on our general population.

We re-engaged our Promoting Independence in our Seniors with Arthritis (PISA) cohort by recruiting them into an exercise study. Individuals were given a choice of conducting home based exercise using an exercise booklet and video created for the PISA study by Prof Selina Khoo and her team from the Sports Centre and her team. Alternatively, they were given the choice to connect using Google Meet at 7.30am every morning to conduct virtual exercises. The exercises were led by Amira, our PhD student and Jarvin, a physiotherapist volunteer. 

Participants performing online-guided exercise.

Forty-three older adults agreed to take part. Compared to their scores at the latest visit in PISA in 2018, there was a significant increase in anxiety scores.. Participation was great, with 70% electing to come into our virtual exercise sessions, while others preferred to exercise on their own at home. Data analysis on their adherence and effects of psychological health is now complete after the one-month intervention.

As the saying goes, it only takes a spark to get the fire going. The group has stayed together, and continues meeting every morning to this day. They have also agreed to share their story with the press, not once but twice!

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