Seniors in Isolation Use Kinship, Memories of Hardship to Forge On

The Review file photo

Mary Bart wakes up and sometimes wonders if she is living in a dream.
Nellie Armenta and Liz Calvert miss their daily routines.
Rosemary Goulden tries to put things in perspective by remembering the past.
All are seniors from South Pasadena coping with the possible dangers of coronavirus.
“The burden of this disease is disproportionately on seniors, so obviously that is stressful and scary for seniors and anyone who loves them,” said Dr. Lauren Fox MacMillan, a clinical assistant professor of family medicine at Keck Medicine of USC, who earned her doctorate in clinical-aging psychology.
MacMillan noted that it is broadly understood that seniors and people with certain chronic health problems are at the highest risk of dying from Covid-19, and there are several factors that especially impact seniors:
• Many places seniors go on a regular basis are currently closed, and many of the home services disabled seniors may depend on are also limited at this time.
• Older or low-income seniors are less likely than young people to use online ordering/ delivery for groceries or food.
• For those who are still employed, they may face sudden unemployment (which may be final for older workers).
• Seniors aren’t digital natives, so they usually prefer face to face encounters for socialization.
Nellie Armenta misses her time at the South Pasadena Senior Center where she helped prepare meals for 12 years. Now she is so grateful that the same senior center provides her with delivered meals.
“I miss my friends at the senior center where I might go four days a week. I miss fitness class and lunch with my friends,” the 85-year-old Armenta said.
She does talk on the phone with her son, grand-daughter and great-granddaughter who come over and check if she needs anything.
Bart, who teaches English as a Second Language at the South Pasadena Library, misses her class and her job of sorting books for sale in the bookstore run by the Friends of the South Pasadena Library.
“What is incredible is that you think back a few weeks and I was processing books for sale in the library and seeing the same people,” the 73-year-old Bart said. “It’s almost unreal when you look back at it. Everything has stopped.
“You go to sleep and you wake up and for a few minutes, you think ‘Am I dreaming this?’”
Bart said right now she is coping with sheltering in place and even takes comfort from just hearing noise from other apartments in her complex.
“It’s not bad now, but I can see it becoming increasingly an issue if things go on as long as they are forecast.”
Calvert, 78, is usually busy shuttling five grandchildren, but now their parents are home working and — for safety’s sake — won’t let her physically see the children. She now talks to them by phone and via online where she’s listened to virtual violin lessons.
She has helped pass the time by working with other members of the women’s club to make fabric masks for use at Ralph’s Market and the Huntington Hospital.
Bart noted how important it is to keep in touch with friends-either by telephone, text or online.
“Sometimes I have contact several hours a day. In the past, people must have been really isolated because of these kinds of things,” she said. “It’s good to be aware that there are people around. Now it is possible to connect with people even if you aren’t physically seeing them.”
Bart and MacMillan both mentioned the people who are helping others during the health crisis.
“I’m just astonished at the stories of people who have risen to the occasion,” Bart said. “People are going out at some risk to help others. Stories such as this remind you of the good stuff and gets you through these times.”
MacMillan talked about how children of older parents are having to maintain their distance.
“For those folks who are regularly providing help or care to an older or chronically ill loved one, they (hopefully) know they are a potential vector for delivering the coronavirus to their loved ones,” she said. “They are balancing continuing to deliver care for their loved ones, while also trying not to get them sick.”
MacMillan recommends staying in touch by phone with loved ones in assisted living or nursing homes and telling residents only as much as they need to know. If they are unconcerned or unaware, she said there is no need to stress them by telling them everything that is going on right now.
“If they ask questions, like when you will visit next, keep the information very simple and present it calmly. Do not give your anxiety to your impaired loved one,” she said.
MacMillan said if your loved one is physically disabled and needing care, but cognitively well enough to know a lot about coronavirus and ask detailed questions, use discretion in how much you share and keep an upbeat attitude.
“These older people are often much more concerned for their younger relatives than they are for themselves,” she said.
Rosemarie Goulden, who just turned 90, looks to the past to put the present in perspective. She
remembers the dangers she had to overcome when she was younger. She escaped East Germany on a cargo plane in 1949, at age 19, on her third attempt. Her mother was shot by the Russians and she had to take care of her family at age 15.
“Things have been much worse. Nobody is shooting at me,” she said. “God has protected me and he will protect me now. I have seen reality and am not afraid. I am not alone. My children buy groceries for me and take care of me.”