School of Social Welfare Interns Ease Isolation for Older Adults, Veterans During COVID-19

Internship in Aging

From left, Internships In Aging graduate intern Jennifer Casale, who works with veterans, and Nicole Gardy, who works for the Alzheimer's Association of Albany. 

ALBANY, N.Y. (Oct. 13, 2020) – Two School of Social Welfare Internships In Aging graduate interns are helping older adults and veterans stay connected to health care services during COVID-19.

Jennifer Casale, a native of Tennessee, and Nicole Gardy of Schenectady, both second-year MSW students, have internships through the Internships In Aging Project, Casale through the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center, and Gardy through the Alzheimer’s Association of Albany.

This is the 20th anniversary year of the Internships In Aging Program, a program to address the severe workforce shortage by recruiting and training social work students to work with older adults and their families.

The School of Social Welfare is raising funds through October to support future students to work with the aging population. Donations are welcomed.

Jennifer Casale
Casale is part of a team of professionals that coordinates care, both in person and remotely, for veterans who are homebound due to medical issues.

“Some veterans live alone, while others live with a caregiver or staff to oversee their care,” she said. “During home visits we also assess the overall safety of the home, make sure there is plenty of food, and review any supports that are already in place. The veterans are very appreciative to have this program available to them.”

When team members like Casale visit the homes, they wear PPE, including a mask, eye protection and gloves. They must test negative for COVID-19 prior to entering the home.

“COVID-19 is impacting our older veterans and their caregivers in the form of isolation and lack of in-person support services. Before COVID-19 many of our veterans attended the day program here at the VA, which provided socialization, medical assistance, meals for the veteran and respite for the caregiver,” Casale said.


Jennifer Casale

Jennifer Casale is inspired by the stories of veterans.


IPads are available to veterans who choose to have ongoing communication with their treatment team to replace this in-person care.

“My supervisor and I are in training now to offer an online mindfulness group for veterans looking to reduce anxiety and connect with others despite the isolation COVID-19 has created,” she said.

“Older veterans have much to teach all of us, and I am honored to listen to their experiences. Whether it’s a WWII veteran describing their least favorite C ration of powdered lemon and dehydrated potato or the excitement of being on a flight with fellow Marine John Glenn (before he was an astronaut), you realize as social worker you serve as a witness to their history. I carry their stories with me, and they become part of my story. Their service to our country continues to inform my practice and inspires me personally and professionally,” Casale said.

Nicole Gardy
Gardy, an intern for the Alzheimer’s Association of Albany with a rotation at Community Caregivers, finds that COVID-19 intensifies fear and lack of access to resources among older adults, in addition to leaving them socially isolated.

Many of her clientele live with family members who are their caregivers, or have a home health aide. Some are grandparents.

“Grandchildren often give these individuals a new purpose in this chapter of their life, so not having the ability to see them takes that away,” Gardy noted.

The Alzheimer’s Association has taken the support and education groups that they usually provide in person and converted them for virtual use, Gardy said. Telephone support is being offered and care consultations are offered via Zoom. Community Caregivers is now making reassurance calls instead of home visits.

“A big part of our time this year is participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. It is a virtual ceremony, with a walk in your own neighborhood. My supervisor Shannon encouraged me to start my own team, raise funds and walk with family and friends,” Gardy said.

In addition, she is starting a new social engagement program to provide those living with early stage Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia the opportunity to socialize and receive support as well as cognitive stimulation. She will soon be starting a virtual coffee chat connections support group for her clients with Community Caregivers.

“Older adults are the most undervalued and underappreciated age group,” Gardy said. “They have so much wisdom and experience to share with us.”