It has been two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and the virus has hit senior citizens harder than any other age group.
Seniors have had to change their lifestyle to stay safe during this time. Many of them continue to remain isolated, either living with their spouse or by themselves.
Many seniors who spoke with the Sammamish Independent cited increased feelings of loneliness from a lack of family connection and face-to-face interactions with friends. They have avoided attending in-person events such as birthdays, weddings and other social gatherings.
Barbara Dover, 68, is concerned about a family wedding. One of her three children was supposed to get married two summers ago. After canceling in 2020, they planned to have it in the summer of 2021 but that could not happen either. She hopes the wedding will take place as scheduled this summer.
Marilyn Fenstermaker, 64, was not able to set up the funeral for her father and father-in-law, who both died during the pandemic when vaccines were not yet available, and it was too risky for her due to her own health issues.
“My father was in assisted living, and he felt very separated from family members, as we weren’t able to visit them [father and father-in-law] frequently in their 90s,” said Fenstermaker. “I just miss being able to see people and go places without being afraid.”
Some seniors, although deprived from their usual in-person interactions, have adapted to new ways of socializing.
Joyce Bottenberg, 74, is a retired senior who lives in Sammamish with her husband Norm, 83.
The Bottenbergs celebrated a “wonderful” Christmas in 2020 with their children through a security camera feed. They continue to use that camera to communicate.
“We watch each other on television,” said Bottenberg.
Usage of FaceTime, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams have all increased among seniors to stay connected with friends, neighbors and family members.
Sally Farrell, 73, is thankful for these modern conveniences. She said she sympathizes with people who suffered through the 1918 flu pandemic.
Former mayor Don Gerend, 81, notes that the pandemic accelerated the inevitable. He thinks it confirmed the perception that working from home can be good for both employee and employer. He plans to continue using virtual interactions through computers even when life returns to normal.
“Ordinary phone calls now just seem so antiquated,” said Gerend.
Seniors have also altered their eating habits. Many of them have not eaten at a restaurant for two years, choosing instead to cook at home. Some of them use drive-throughs at fast food restaurants, or takeout services such as DoorDash and UberEats, when they need some more variety.
Cooking at home has given them an opportunity to enjoy time with their partners.
“I am grateful for my husband. I used to do all the cooking for 40 years and when he retired, he started doing some cooking, so I am not going to complain about our meals,” said Dover.
In looking for options to order groceries online, some seniors have discovered stores that they had never heard of such as Curbside and Kroger.
“I am finding all kinds of really fun places to buy things now,” said Fenstermaker.
Stuck at home, they have developed a new perspective of the important role that frontline workers — such as police, firefighters, medical staff and teachers — play to keep the community functioning normally.
“It’s the appreciation for people that are doing the work that has to go on in order for society to survive. And those are the people that make the freedom and the ability for us to stay safe,” Fenstermaker said.
Many seniors in the community belong to a group called Sammamish Seniors, which functions as a social group and arranges various talks and online meetings, including podcasts, webinars, discussions and even a book club. Activities like these have helped to alleviate anxiety and loneliness.
“I am appreciative of the different online classes so I have been doing a lot more virtual things like meditation and yoga podcasts,” said Dover. “Yeah, they have been a lifesaver for me.”
Throughout the pandemic, seniors have not only developed resilience and flexibility to unexpected changes, but also gratitude for many things that they once took for granted. While some seniors were forced to retire early and felt a lack of purpose, others have chosen to see the positive side in the opportunities that life presented. However, the longing for those pre-pandemic days still festers.
“You miss that emotional and physical connection to hugs,” said Bottenberg.