Family Communication in Long-Term Care During a Pandemic: Lessons for Enhancing Emotional Experiences

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2020 Dec;28(12):1299-1307. doi: 10.1016/j.jagp.2020.09.008. Epub 2020 Sep 12.


Objective: Family visits with residents at long-term care (LTC) facilities have been restricted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The objective was to examine what communication methods, other than in-person visits, during the pandemic were associated with greater positive and lower negative emotional experiences for LTC residents and their family members and friends.

Design: Cross-sectional.

Setting: Nationally targeted online survey.

Participants: One hundred sixty-one community-dwelling adults who had a family member or friend in a LTC facility.

Measurements: The Positive and Negative Affect Scale was used to assess participant's own emotions and perceived resident emotions during the pandemic. Questions were asked about nine communication methods other than physical visits (e.g., phone, video-conference, e-mail, and letters) in terms of frequency of use during the pandemic. Sociodemographics, resident health, and facility factors were assessed and used as covariates where indicated.

Results: During the pandemic, greater phone frequency was associated with less participant negative emotions (β = -0.17). Greater e-mail frequency was associated with more perceived resident positive emotions (β = 0.28). Greater frequency of letters delivered by staff was associated with more participant negative emotions (β = 0.23). Greater frequency of letters delivered by staff and the postal service were associated with more perceived resident negative emotions (β = 0.28; β = 0.34, respectively).

Conclusion: These findings highlight the importance of synchronous, familiar methods of communication like the phone and email between families and LTC residents to maintain their emotional well-being when in-person visits are restricted.

Keywords: Long term care facilities; communication; dementia; emotion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Attitude to Health
  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Communication*
  • Coronavirus Infections* / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections* / psychology
  • Dementia / psychology
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infection Control / methods
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Long-Term Care* / organization & administration
  • Long-Term Care* / psychology
  • Long-Term Care* / trends
  • Male
  • Organizational Innovation
  • Pandemics*
  • Pneumonia, Viral* / epidemiology
  • Pneumonia, Viral* / psychology
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Skilled Nursing Facilities / trends
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Visitors to Patients / psychology