October 15, 2020

We know that myeloma patients are especially vulnerable in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. But what has been largely overlooked is that older adults, who make up the largest percentage of myeloma patients, are psychologically highly resilient. (Myeloma is most frequently diagnosed in 65- to 74-year-olds.)

Now, in a recent article for Kaiser Health News, writer Judith Graham describes new research that shows the ways in which many seniors have changed behaviors in response to challenges. 

Reacting to challenges of COVID-19 

The standard story of “frail, disabled, and dependent” is frequently just not true. Many older adults have a lifetime of experiences to draw upon to enhance resilience and find new ways forward.

  • Protecting themselves: A survey showed that a majority of seniors have reacted strongly to protect themselves: limiting face-to-face time with family and friends (94%); limiting trips to the grocery store (94%); and canceling celebrations and out-of-town trips (88%). 
  • Experiencing stress: A majority of older adults have been appropriately worried about the pandemic, with about one-third experiencing anxiety or depression. However, interestingly enough, those over age 75 were better able to adjust. Responses included: getting exercise; just going outside; altering routines; taking up meditation or mindfulness; and generally changing attitudes. People this age seem to recognize that it is important to focus on what we can control in our lives. 
  • Social networking: To avoid loneliness and anxiety, they are using and even expanding social networking via social media or video chats. We have seen the value of these connections in action at the IMF. Regular online meetings held by many of the 160-plus myeloma support groups across the U.S. have been a godsend for updating and keeping people connected.
  • Asking “who is in your bubble?”: Many myeloma patients just want to see their grandchildren. It is possible to create safe bubbles, especially if family members live close by. After any appropriate or necessary quarantine, families can get together in small groups with use of masks, physical distancing and other standard precautions. (Meet outdoors if possible and no hugs for now, especially if any children have outside contacts.)

Reassurance from trial results 

Another silver lining is that despite controversies, a huge number of COVID-19 treatment and vaccine trials are moving rapidly forward. You may have heard that a monoclonal antibody trial was recently halted temporarily for safety reasons. This is actually very reassuring. We want any treatments moving forward to be safe, and the purpose of trials is to assess exactly that. Likewise, for the vaccine trials. (Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine study has been paused due to an unexplained illness in a participant.) Something to be given to millions of people must be safe.

Recently, the FDA explained how the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted cancer research and care. Dr. Richard Pazdur, Director of the FDA’s Center of Excellence, and Dr. Anand Shah, Deputy Commissioner, discussed the challenges—both for patients and researchers. It was extremely reassuring to learn that they are making every effort to give modified and helpful guidance in the face of the pandemic. Ongoing clinical trials are essential and must go forward as best possible while incorporating strict safety measures to avoid COVID-19 infection.  

The bottom line

Let’s celebrate the experience that life brings, and work to get through this pandemic together. No matter which way we turn, it seems that resilience is the key. The IMF will soon send a brief survey to support group members to gauge the effect of the pandemic on myeloma patients and to learn how they are coping. I will report on the results in a future blog. Thank you in advance for taking the time to participate. 

Stay safe and be well.


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Image of Dr. Brian G.M. DurieDr. Brian G.M. Durie serves as Chairman of the International Myeloma Foundation and serves on its Scientific Advisory Board. Additionally, he is Chairman of the IMF's International Myeloma Working Group, a consortium of nearly 200 myeloma experts from around the world. Dr. Durie also leads the IMF’s Black Swan Research Initiative®.

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