Thanks to journalist Judith Graham for addressing loneliness in elders and for mentioning my work and the importance of psychological support during the Covid-19 pandemic.
As states relax coronavirus restrictions, older adults are advised, in most cases, to keep sheltering in place. But for some, the burden of isolation and uncertainty is becoming hard to bear.
This “stay at home awhile longer” advice recognizes that older adults are more likely to become critically ill and die if infected with the virus. At highest risk are seniors with underlying medical conditions such as heart, lung or autoimmune diseases.Yet after two months at home, many want to go out into the world again. It is discouraging for them to see people of other ages resume activities. They feel excluded. Still, they want to be safe.
“It’s been really lonely,” said Kathleen Koenen, 77, who moved to Atlanta in July after selling her house in South Carolina. She’s living in a 16th-floor apartment while waiting to move into a senior housing community, which has had cases of Covid-19.
“I had thought that would be a new community for me, but everyone there is isolated,” Koenen said. “Wherever we go, we’re isolated in this situation. And the longer it goes on, the harder it becomes.”
(Georgia residents age 65 and older are required to shelter in place through June 12, along with other vulnerable populations.)
Her daughter, Karestan Koenen, is a professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. During a Facebook Live event this month, she said her mother had felt in March and April that “everyone was in [this crisis] together.” But now, that sense of communality has disappeared.
Making it worse, some seniors fear that their lives may be seen as expendable in the rush to reopen the country.