One remembers the polio epidemic and the hardships of World War II. One is stoic about it all — because, he says, he’s already “here past the welcome.” A third, old enough to remember the aftermath of the 1918 flu epidemic, turns to her faith in challenging times.
For older Americans, some of the people most likely to be affected badly by the coronavirus pandemic, these unusual days and the social distancing that they bring are rippling out in varied and nuanced ways.
“This kind of thing is not new for us older people,” said Mimi Allison, the former director of the National Museum of Dance who now resides in Asheville, North Carolina, who turned 90 on Friday.
The global coronavirus pandemic has infected at least 565,000, killed more than 25,000 worldwide, crippled economies and forced restrictions on the movement of millions of people in an effort to stop the virus from spreading further and overwhelming health care systems. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, including fever and coughs. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
It has forced lifestyle adjustments for everyone.
Easter Brown, 77, works with a Washington, D.C. group that provides groceries, medicine and other services to older inner-city residents. But it’s pollen season and she has asthma, making her more vulnerable to coronavirus. So on doctor’s orders, she has stopped making deliveries. She has also stopped walking outside for exercise and instead strolls her apartment building’s hallways for 35 minutes each day. Her daughter and grandson live in the building so she doesn’t feel isolated. Crossword puzzles, studying her Bible, cooking and watching TV keep her busy.
Brown takes the small changes in her lifestyle in stride, and is still going strong — at least, “that’s what everybody says,” Brown said with a laugh. “As long as I stay in here, I don’t worry about catching it,” she said.
In Dublin, New Hampshire, 88-year-old Pete Thomas lives by himself and says, “I’m pretty happy being alone. I’m used to it.”
He does miss his regular visits with friends at a nearby diner and has turned to take-out for most his meals. But he says he doesn’t feel deprived and doesn’t worry about getting sick.
“At 88, I am sort of here past the welcome, as the saying goes,” Thomas said. “It will be what it is, and you deal with it as you will. I see no point in getting myself concerned about something I have no control over.”