“What this has really driven home is that – we are old and, without vending and going to movies, I am basically a hermit up here in the foothills”. So said a fit and lively Boulder 73-year-old about the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. And this is echoed by many in the “vulnerable” age groups who have never before considered themselves “old”. A sobering thought.
So, what are the current federal and local guidelines for those over 60 or 70? The CDC considers anyone over 65 years of age or living in a long-term facility to be at risk. In addition, anyone, of whatever age, having a serious illness such as chronic lung disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes, and several other chronic conditions, as well as undergoing cancer therapy and extreme obesity, is considered at risk.
Many seniors experience such serious health issues, in addition to the weakened immune system that comes with age. The CDC recommendations are similar to their recommendations for the public at large: stock up on supplies; take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others; when you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick; limit close contact and wash your hands often; and avoid crowds, cruise travel, and non-essential travel. If there is an outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible. Watch for symptoms and emergency signs. If you get sick, stay home and call your doctor. Nothing about toilet paper and I am sure advice will change as the days and weeks go by.
What does this mean if you are a senior and have chronic health problems? Marsha is 80 and had been undergoing treatment for blood clots and breathing problems for over two months. She has been told to stay inside indefinitely and not to have any visitors or come into contact with anyone. So, her physician appointments are held through Skype or WhatsApp and she has groceries delivered to her front door. The pumpkin bread she makes for friends must be left outside for pickup.
Meals on Wheels is based at the Longmont Senior Centre and is a lifeline for many housebound seniors and is now sending out emergency preparedness bags to its clients. These bags contain enough shelf-stable items for approximately one week for each client to use if there is a disruption in the MoW service. They are also on standby to send the same emergency preparedness bags to independent senior living communities who aren’t current MoW clients. The response to their call for volunteers to help with these extra preparations has been overwhelming according to Executive Director Meghan Grady.
Maggie is a single woman in the “vulnerable” age group. She is healthy but has a precarious income and access to the Internet only through her local library, which is now closed. She is starting to feel really isolated as she tries to find additional sources of income as well as maintain contact with her few friends in the area. She is more concerned about the effects of isolation on her than the potential physical effects of the COVID-19 virus.
Alex is counting her days “at home” after having a bad cold last weekend. She is on day number 8 but says “I am in touch with what’s going on by staying on-line. I have music for my background noise”. And she doesn’t turn on the TV. What else does she do? “Washing my sheets today. I have given up hope of ever being filthy rich but I used to say that I would sleep in freshly laundered sheets every, single night if ever I came into a fortune. “
Geriatrician Louise Aranson says “a lot of people who think of themselves as healthy have high blood pressure, or have a little bit of heart disease, but it doesn’t really influence their everyday life; they’re thinking, well, I am not like a sick person with heart disease. But, if you get the coronavirus, you still have a 68-year-old heart.”
And 80-year-old Marsha considers isolation as “temporary. It is also not absolute…. unless a person is incapacitated in some way, just consider it a vacation from people”. But doesn’t she want to have contact with family and friends? “…so much press has been predicting doom about our survival rate, that our busy and involved adult children have been tapped on the proverbial shoulder. I’ve gotten more ‘how are you’ calls in the past weeks than in the previous year”.
We are living in uncertain and troubling times and are told “we are all in this together”. So now is not the time to emphasize differences in age or generation. Those of us over 60 or 70 or more must realize we are not as invincible as we were when we sang “hope I die before I get old”. And those of us under 30 must understand that those in our family or neighborhood who insist on shoveling the snowy sidewalk despite their grey hair and hip replacements might need a little extra attention and perhaps a helpful trip to the grocery store.
We are all in this together and the Boulder County Area Agency on Aging www.bouldercounty.org/departments/community-services/area-agency-aging/ can provide help and advice for seniors or their loved ones to help us through these difficult times.
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