Seniors adjust to life during pandemic

| April 16, 2020 | 0 Comments

Butch Geng, 72, stands in front of his northeast Minneapolis home where he spends all of his time these days except for occasional trips to the grocery store. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

The coronavirus pandemic has changed daily life for people of every age. Seniors face additional challenges.

Older adults and people with underlying medical conditions have a higher risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19. And those living in senior facilities — from independent to assisted living to nursing homes — face restrictions on visitors and requirements for social distancing in dining and activity rooms.

Many are finding ways to cope, on practical and spiritual levels, to a new reality.

Rosie Klehr, 80, said she has lived in an assisted living apartment at The Gardens at St. Gertrude’s in Shakopee since last May, when visitors could come and go and residents felt free to eat and socialize in groups.

Now, although family members live nearby, she can’t see them in person. Meals are delivered to her apartment instead of the dining room.

She talks with family members by phone and two nieces have sent care packages. Still, Klehr makes good use of her time.

Playing cards has been a passion for decades. Klehr’s favorite, “500,” is off the table today because it requires four players, but she plays other card games in her apartment with a staff member — usually gin rummy or kings in the corner.

Klehr watches Mass on television every day and other programming on an in-house channel. And she exercises regularly. Klehr lifts two-pound weights while seated to help maintain her strength. A few residents at a time spread out in the in-house chapel and activity room to join in exercise sessions.

For other seniors confined during the pandemic, Klehr advised, “Keep busy and the time will go fast. Read a book. Go for a walk.”

Faith also helps in a time like this, she said. “I keep praying every day.”

Jon Voltz, a long-term care resident in his 90s at Catholic Eldercare, Minneapolis, also turns to prayer, specifically the rosary.

“I pray for the church doors to re-open with priests there to say Mass, hear confessions, anoint the sick and help heal the hurting,” he said.

“Praying the rosary is a good, active step,” Voltz said. “It’s the most constructive way to deal with challenging times.”

The hardest part of dealing with restrictions, he said, is being confined. But he understands the need for precautions and hopes restrictions can be lifted soon.

Butch Geng, 72, has lived in his northeast Minneapolis home for 31 years. He has five children, ages 36 to 52. All six text (group) message each other morning and night to check on how everyone is doing. He recently used Zoom video conferencing to talk with all of his children.

As a smoker, Geng wants to limit his exposure to others, so when he does leave the house, usually for groceries, he shops early in the morning to encounter fewer people. Sometimes his children drop something off when Geng doesn’t want to risk leaving home and getting sick.

“Most of the time I’m isolated,” he said. “I only have my dog here, so that’s a little tough. You feel somewhat lonely.” He does have a circle of friends to call who are going through the same thing.

A parishioner of Holy Cross in Minneapolis, Geng normally golfs seven days a week in the summer. After golfing with friends April 20 and seeing others not practicing proper social distancing, he plans to be very cautious through the summer in making any plans to golf.

“I’m usually pretty active and not home too much,” he said. Now, he plays with his dog in the backyard and takes him on neighborhood walks.

Geng advises people at home alone to figure out a daily routine that will be healthy, including calling friends.

Joan McGrath, 80, lives in an apartment complex in White Bear Lake, where three close friends also live. In good weather, they walk downtown and near the lake while practicing social distancing. It helps to have conversations, she said. “We have no touch, so yes, the voice is what we have.”

For fun, the group put together two scavenger hunt lists — for the east and west sides of Highway 61 — to challenge others to find specific things during the walk. “We found all kinds of things,” she said, “including chickens.”

On Easter Sunday, the women drove separately to the homes of six friends, rolled down their car windows, honked their horns and shouted “Happy Easter.”

“That was our Easter parade,” McGrath said. “As a rule, I think of myself as a positive person and I’m trying to stay that way.”

Yet some effects of the pandemic are difficult. One is not being able to physically be with her family. Another was watching a livestream of Easter Mass from her parish, St. Pius X, and seeing an empty church.

“That was hard,” she said, “not being there with all the people and praying.”

While McGrath uses a computer, she knows others in her generation are not tech-savvy.

“I think that’s a vulnerability,” she said. “I don’t want to be the vulnerable generation. But we are a prayerful generation. The first thing we do is turn to prayer. I don’t know what you would do if you didn’t have faith and believe in God.”

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