Seniors face at least two threats stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
There’s the virus itself.
People aged 65 and older represent only 12 percent of the total confirmed cases in North Carolina but 79 percent of all deaths, according to data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
But the potential harm goes beyond the effects of the disease itself to the social isolation and disruption of normal schedules.
The Catawba County Council on Aging has long been a source of both social interaction and practical resources for older people. However, virus-related regulations have forced the West Hickory Senior Center to be closed to seniors.
The council still maintains and has expanded its food pantry, Council Executive Director Vickie Blevins said. Older people are welcome to make appointments to get food from the pantry.
People involved with the council have also been making calls to seniors, particularly the ones vulnerable to social isolation.
Four Hickory seniors recently discussed how they have been handling life during the pandemic.
“(My life) has been drastically different,” Newton, 77, said. “I don’t leave the house except to go to the mailbox or to get my meds. That’s the story in a nutshell.”
Despite the physical isolation, Newton has her ways of passing the time and keeping in touch with others. She likes to read and often speaks over the phone with other book lovers, discussing topics ranging “from Sherlock Holmes to Solzhenitsyn to … the Romanovs.”
There’s also the “Grandpad”- her term for the iPad her family gave her. She uses it to for things like watching movies and staying in touch with family in California and Virginia.
The phone calls from people with the council are important. “They mean somebody knows I’m here; somebody cares about me,” Newton said.
The things she misses most revolve around the senior center — the familial camaraderie between the people there, the trivia and card games and the class that makes greeting cards. She’s been a part of the latter group since 2012.
“The greeting cards, I really miss terribly because I’m starting to run low on my supply and I’m going to have to start making some here at home again,” Newton said.
Before the pandemic hit, the bus was a primary mode of transportation for Byrd. She would take it almost daily.
In the months since, she’s only taken the bus three times. A friend drives her to the places she needs to go.
While the restrictions have limited many aspects of her daily life, Byrd, 76, also sees some upsides. “I’m a person who likes to stay up late anyway and so it’s kind of played into things I enjoy doing and that’s sleeping late,” Byrd said, laughing. “I do that unless I have an appointment of some kind and I have very few of those since we’re staying confined.”
She’s also saving some money by not going out as much.
“It’s really been more relaxing to me because I was going out to do activities just to keep going as a senior … and it’s very easy to just get complacent and be at home and not go out but I’ve found that it really hasn’t depressed or changed things for me in a big degree,” Byrd said.
The main things she misses are going to see plays and musical performances and monthly trivia games at the Ridgeview Library
Church is another thing she misses. Even though her church, West Hickory Baptist, has started in-person services again, she does not feel comfortable attending services or her Sunday school group for older women because of high virus case counts.
Neal, 94, enjoyed walking to Windy City Grill and going to Dos Amigos before the restaurants were forced to close as a result of the pandemic.
She’s since been able to return to Dos Amigos. Neal said they do a good job of social distancing and having employees wear masks.
When unable to get out, Neal said she spent a lot of time reading, particularly the novels of Nicholas Sparks and Fern Michaels.
Her family has also been a strong source of support. She’s spent time with her daughter’s family and enjoyed seeing the birds, rabbits, turkey and deer that wander near their home.
When the restrictions are lifted, Neal said she’s most looking forward to getting back to church.
Her church, Viewmont Baptist, stopped holding services but the pastor still makes calls and sends letters to stay in touch with congregants, Neal said.
She was able to attend outdoor services at Longview Baptist Church with her family.
“We’d all stay in our cars and up on a little rise above us they had it set up. And the musicians and the pastors were up there, and we just had some wonderful church services out there,” Neal said. “It’s things like that that see you through a time like this, or they did me.”
Taft, 79, likes to keep active.
He volunteers with organizations like SilverSneakers, is a lector at St. Aloysius Catholic Church and participates in singing groups that visit nursing homes.
Some of those activities have been limited because of COVID-19 restrictions. The slowed pace has given him the opportunity to work around the house.
The slowed pace also provided the opportunity to sort through old documents and to organize some of his late wife’s belongings for donation.
He’s also taken a great deal of pleasure in making phone calls and writing letters.
Throughout it all, he said it’s important to continue to maintain human bonds, even if it can only occur at a distance. “The love that we can share … has got to go on,” Taft said. “We can’t stop it and we need to be in contact with people one way or the other.”
One big thing Taft is looking forward to when the restrictions lift is returning to the Senior Games. “So, this year we couldn’t do it because of the virus but next year I’ll be back. And I’ll give them the best shot I can,” Taft said.
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