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[Article series] The experts behind Luxembourg's COVID-19 fight

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Publié le mercredi 12 août 2020

Dr. Isabelle Albert is a lifespan development psychologist at the University of Luxembourg’s Faculty of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences. 

Isabelle is the Principal Investigator of the FNR-funded project Correlates of Resilience in the context of Social Isolation in Seniors (CRISIS). Together with her team from the Department of Behavioural and Cognitive Sciences, she assesses how older adults experienced the COVID-19 prevention measures. The project’s outcome will allow improving information and coping strategies directed at at-risk populations.

Could you tell us more about your background and expertise?

I studied psychology at the Universities of Saarland, Bologna and Trier, and received my PhD from the University of Konstanz, while working in the interdisciplinary cross-cultural “Value-of-Children”-project.

Since joining the University of Luxembourg in 2007, I have participated in a number of nationally and internationally funded research projects (e.g. FNR-funded projects INTERGEN and IRMA; EU-funded COST Action INTERFASOL, Erasmus+ project ARPA, H2020 project MIMY; PAN-VAL financed by the Ministry of Family and Integration).

My main research interests are in the fields of (cross-)cultural, lifespan developmental and family psychology, and I am a consortium member of our Faculty’s key research area Migration and Inclusive Societies (MIS). My major contributions include the study of intergenerational family relations, resilience in the context of migration and research on active ageing in Luxembourg. I particularly enjoy incorporating my research experiences into teaching and to inspire students for their own research activities. I am a lecturer in the Bachelor and Master programmes in Psychology (BAP and MPI) as well as in the Master en Gérontologie and the Master in Management and Coaching.

Furthermore, I’m involved in a number of editorial activities, as an associate editor of GeroPsych Journal, a co-editor of the Human Development Series at IAP, an editorial board member of the Journal of Intergenerational Relationships and of Culture & Psychology, and a review editor within the Cultural Psychology section of Frontiers in Psychology. I am member of several administrative boards and standing committees (e.g. Société Luxembourgeoise de Psychologie; EFPA SC Geropsychology; EFPA Board Ethnic and Cultural Diversity.

How is your expertise relevant in the current COVID-19 context?

Due to my research background, I am specifically interested in questions around how the older population is experiencing the COVID-19 crisis. Being a member of the EFPA SC Geropsychology, I was early involved in discussions about the secondary impact that confinement measures and social distancing might have on older people. In the current COVID-19 crisis, older adults are at a particular risk for severe health impacts and increased mortality, which is also due to a higher probability of underlying health conditions. Specific efforts were made to shield at-risk groups from exposure to the virus to prevent contraction.

Whereas reducing in-person contact is essential to protect vulnerable groups, incurring risks of social isolation due to the protective measures became soon an increasing concern. A rise in ageing stereotypes was also noted across Europe, along with media and official communications about special age-related risks due to COVID-19. These observations were the starting point for my project proposal.

As a lifespan developmental psychologist, I have a strong expertise in ageing research and I’m also teaching in the Master of Gerontology which provides me with a close link to the practical field of ageing in Luxembourg. In my FNR-funded project "Intergenerational Relations in light of Migration and Ageing" (IRMA), we have - among others - explored older adults’ loneliness and social isolation, their self-regulatory strategies to enhance subjective well-being and intergenerational solidarity. In our latest project on active ageing in Luxembourg, which will start in September, we will further focus on issues of social exclusion and participation – both strongly affected also by the current COVID-19 situation.

What is your specific role in ongoing COVID-19 projects?

I’m the Principal Investigator of the FNR-funded project "Correlates of Resilience in the context of Social Isolation in Seniors" (CRISIS). Our research focuses on the question of how current measures and their communication to the public are experienced by the target group (60+). We compare younger and older old adults, living independently and in residential settings. We will assess two time-points to explore processes and detect possible mid- and long-term effects.

We address the following questions, in particular:

  • How are claims of being a risk group and COVID-19 related ageing stereotypes incorporated in views of self and others and how are they related to psychological and behavioural consequences?
  • How is subjective risk experienced and how do older people commit to protective measures and guidelines, also depending on their self-views?
  • How can the risk for social isolation and loneliness be reduced? This includes the availability of appropriate information and communication channels?
  • What are resilience factors that protect older adults from negative mental health outcomes and help to maintain subjective well-being?

With our results we hope to inform policies related to controlling the virus and information strategies to ensure compliance with the measures, especially, but not only, in the at-risk population of older adults. In relation to the situation in care homes, we will also focus on best practice examples and resources that helped residents, their families and the institutions to cope with this highly demanding situation. Furthermore, the project will contribute knowledge to reduce negative side effects of the preventive measures for older adults' long-term autonomy, health, and well-being.

Who are the members of your team and what are their contributions to the ongoing COVID-19 project?

CRISIS is a collaborative study between the University of Luxembourg’s research area Lifespan Development, Family, and Culture and the Cellule de Recherche of RBS-Center fir Altersfroen. Our research team is a perfect fit!

Prof. Dr. Anna Kornadt is the head of the research area and has a strong background in ageing research with a particular focus on views on ageing and ageing stereotypes. Dr. Elke Murdock is a research scientist and an expert on questions of cultural identity and on quantitative questionnaire development. As a member of the COST Action "Reducing Old-Age Social Exclusion: Collaborations in Research and Policy" (ROSEnet), she is closely involved in discussions on the impact of ageing stereotypes on social exclusion of the older population.

We were extremely lucky to be able to hire Dr. Josepha Nell as project collaborator for CRISIS-project. She is an expert on resilience in older age and highly experienced in conducting interviews with our target population. Her qualitative interviews will be of utmost importance to understand both the needs and wishes but also the resources of older adults living in residential care settings as well as the perspective of care professionals.

Dr. Martine Hoffmann is the Head of the Unit for Applied Research at RBS-Center fir Altersfroen. She is also a recognised Psychotherapist, specialised on older age. Her expertise is essential for the better understanding of the specific situation of older persons in Luxembourg during the COVID-19 crisis. Also, her support has been crucial for establishing contacts with care homes and potential participants in residential settings.