For older Americans, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens both their physical and mental health. Compared to younger people, those age 60 and older are more likely to die from the disease. However, limiting contact with others to stay healthy puts seniors at greater risk of social isolation. The government reports 28% of older Americans live alone, and social isolation and loneliness are linked to a higher risk of conditions such as high blood pressure, depression and cognitive decline.
In Lowell, about 100 seniors are a part of Senior Neighbors of Lowell, and 50 are regulars at the Lowell Senior Center. “[Pre-pandemic] most of them attend the center on a regular basis so they are really missing the socialization with their friends who are like family to them,” says Terra Bieneman, coordinator for Lowell Senior Neighbors.
While Michigan’s stay-at-home order put a halt to in-person activities, Bieneman has spent the past three months using a variety of methods to ensure members don’t feel alone and isolated during this difficult time.
Phone and Mail Keep People Connected
Zoom has been a popular way for people to work from home and connect with loved ones during the pandemic, but internet-based applications aren’t an option for many seniors. Instead, Bieneman has turned to old-school phone calls and mailings to stay in touch with members.
“During the pandemic, I have started phone activities for them five times a week for an hour each time,” she says. There has been bingo three days a week, a book club and even live entertainment as favorite performers such as John Amos join conference calls. “It gives them a chance to feel connected as a group again over the phone, and it’s been a huge help to all of us during this quarantine,” according to Bieneman.
There have also been monthly mailings to seniors. These include activities such as word puzzles, a home scavenger hunt and adult coloring pages.
During normal times, Lowell Senior Neighbors provides a daily lunch to members, and without that being available, Bieneman says some seniors are using Meals on Wheels home delivery. Others are relying on the Senior Neighbors transportation provider to deliver food from FROM or take them to Meijer for shopping. Lowell Senior Neighbors has also been working to provide transportation to doctor appointments and pick-up prescriptions as needed.
Looking Forward to In-Person Activities
Now that Michigan’s stay-at-home order has lifted, Bieneman is mapping out how to safely restart in-person activities. The Lowell Senior Center on S. Hudson Street is a converted house so space is already limited, and participation in events may need to be reduced for proper social distancing.
“It really is up in the air at this point because [seniors] are the at-risk population so they fall in the later phases of the Governor’s plan of re-opening,” Bieneman says. For now, Senior Neighbors will continue with weekly phone activities.
With the arrival of nicer weather, seniors are able to safely get outdoors more often, but Bieneman says it’s still a difficult time for older members of the community. “It is taking a toll on them but they are hanging in there,” she says. “Most told me they have quit watching all of the news about it so I think that is helpful for them as well.”
If you or a loved one could benefit from the services of Senior Neighbors, contact Terra Bieneman at 616-897-5949. You can also learn more about the organization on the Lowell Senior Neighbors website.