By Taryn Hojlo
How do older adults think about the COVID-19 threat and go about their lives now, many months after the virus first changed their approach to activities of every kind?
Of course there is no single answer to that question, and the way older adults look to the future with the pandemic remaining a real threat varies as well. The Gerontology Institute Blog contacted several members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UMass Boston to ask them about how they approached the problem and how it affects their routines. They offer a small sample of everyday lives among older adults in the age of COVID-19.
When news of the coronavirus first appeared, Mona and Phil were both reasonably concerned about contracting the virus. They isolated themselves from friends and family, only leaving the house for essential activities. However, they’ve begun to venture out a bit more in recent weeks – while still being careful to adhere to health authority guidelines.
“I think I have gotten a bit more acclimated to the situation, though I continue to be vigilant about hygiene, distancing from people, washing my hands, and wearing masks,” says Mona.
While in lockdown, the couple — married 49 years — was happy to be spending more time together, taking more frequent walks around the neighborhood and doing household projects. “Mona and I enjoy each other’s company,” said Phil.
Mona agrees. “Having my husband with me in self-isolation has been a saving grace,” she said. Still, she admits that it’s been hard to stay away from her children and grandchildren, who they call frequently. “FaceTime helps but it is still very limited.”
They’ve also found new ways to stay connected with friends and engage in the community. Both have attended online courses offered through OLLI, as well as weekly religious services facilitated by their local rabbi. Mona has attended virtual yoga classes and signed up for a couple of online book groups. Although keeping a busy schedule has kept their stress at bay, the couple remains wary of the future.
“Unfortunately, we have seen political agendas impact the safety of our country, which is very disconcerting,” Mona said.
“I believe our lives will be very different for the foreseeable future,” said Phil. “We may never see a return to the old normal where people gather in large groups and mingle in close proximity.”
Gilbert Arenaza, 62, and Ed Ford, 76 in Boston, Mass.
“Now we have a realistic view of what that would be like,” said Ed, who’s been retired for some time. “And overall, I think it would be rather pleasant, especially when we’re able to go out.”
Though the couple has been together for over thirty years, they’ve rarely had a chance to spend time together like this. They’ve met face-to-face with a friend only once — from a generously safe distance at a local park. Ed takes daily walks along the Esplanade, but he’s careful to stay away from other people and always wears a mask. Handwashing has also become more than routine.
Gil has been taking serious precautions, too. Like most people, he now works from home and seldom leaves the house. “It took me a little while to adjust to being home full-time. One day, I was at work and the next day I was told not to come back. And I still don’t know when I’ll be coming back,” he said.
Although lockdown has given him the opportunity to spend more time with his husband, Gil worries about his sisters in California and Florida. Ed is concerned about his daughter and grandchildren, who live in Colorado. So far, no one has tested positive. Ed is optimistic that he’ll eventually be able to travel again to see them, but he admits that he’d hesitate to get back on a plane.
“I think it’s going to be a hard sell to get me back to doing things like I did before,” he said.