The impact of Corona on our personality and total health

By Prof Kaarin Anstey

One of the most important and sometimes challenging aspects of research is ensuring that the results lead to a positive impact on how we live our lives.

I’ve had the privilege of following more than 7,000 participants in our PATH Through Life study since 2002, which is when I became an investigator on this project. The study has now been running for 20 years and has three cohorts – currently aged in their early forties, sixties and eighties.

My PATH project team was in the field in March assessing the sixties group when the coronavirus emerged this year. We took the opportunity to add to the study a questionnaire that explores the impact the pandemic and social distancing measures are having on mental health and substance use, as well as physical health symptoms and cognitive function.

The value of this research is that we have so much prior information on the sample that we will be able to evaluate short term and longer-term impacts. The data obtained through this research could help us to better prepare for future events, and help governments to understand what community requirements are necessary to safeguard the mental health and wellbeing of Australians.

Additionally, this information can help identify whether global crises, such as the coronavirus pandemic, increase rate of major burdensome diseases, such as dementia, stroke, and major depression.

Because of COVID-19, we’ve changed our processes away from face-to-face interviews and are now using online surveys and telesurveys to speak to our research participants. Like many Australians, we’ve had to innovate to work out how to conduct our prior face-to-face interviews, and cognitive testing, over the internet.

Our participants answer questions on their inclination to abide by social distancing rules, and whether they are taking new measures to protect themselves – such as by washing hands more thoroughly or frequently.

I am always grateful and incredibly impressed by the commitment of the community participants to our research. Some participants have also provided a brain MRI and blood tests. The longitudinal data we are able to attain is an incredible resource that sustains long term programs of research into dementia and mental health.