Senior living in lockdown


NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Thursday, the 2nd of April, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. First up: the elderly and the coronavirus.

People of all ages have died from COVID-19, but the virus is clearly most dangerous to the elderly. 

One of the first coronavirus outbreaks in the United States happened at a long-term nursing home near Seattle. So far, more than 30 people in the home have died, while many other residents and caregivers have tested positive.

EICHER: So for three weeks now, care centers across the country have been on lockdown. No visitors from the outside can come in and residents inside have to stay away from each other. WORLD reporter Sarah Schweinsberg now on how the elderly and their loved ones are coping.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Before the COVID-19 lockdown, the Brio independent living center in Johnston, Iowa, was a happening place. 

DELITE: From playing card games to watching movies. We have knitting group. Mahjong group. Oh there’s a book club, I belong to that too. 

Delite Lester and her husband have lived in the facility for two years now. Her time has been filled with these activities as well as Bible studies, meals with friends, and quilting.  

But these days Delite Lester and her husband, Charlie, are confined to their room, except for taking a daily walk. 

DELITE: He is a person who prior to this literally would find somewhere to go everyday. So because he was always out in the world on a regular basis this is a huge, huge change for him. 

Lester says while the lockdown isn’t fun, she understands why it’s necessary. She has an autoimmune disease.  

DELITE: So I’m being extremely cautious about trying to avoid any possibilities. It’s kind of our personal goal that no one at Brio gets the virus. 

And the staff are doing what they can to check in on residents and bring some smiles. 

DELITE: The first time they came around they had these really lucious sugar cookies that were frosted, and they were in the shape of either a bar of soap or a roll of toilet paper. (Laughs) 

Jack Barr serves as Brio’s chaplain. He says for the elderly living alone, the lockdown is especially draining and, in some cases, confusing. 

BARR: You can tell by their body posture, the drooped shoulders and kind of bent over…It’s taking a toll on them physically. Some of the individuals are of course older… They know something is going on and that things aren’t the way they used to be, but I’m not sure they understand how bad it really is. 

Lisa Ryan is the spokesperson for WesleyLife, which owns and operates 11 senior care centers including Brio. 

Ryan says combating social isolation during the lockdown is an important part of keeping seniors healthy. So caregivers are doing what they can to make sure seniors have the technology to stay in touch with family and friends. 

RYAN: They are helping them connect through Zoom, through Facebook Live, through Skype. We purchased extra iPads or for each one of our communities. We have all the means possible for people who didn’t have that technology.

Beyond the social struggle there is the practical, says Paul Downey. He runs the non-profit Serving Seniors in San Diego. It helps low-income seniors access housing, food, and medications.

During lockdown, isolated seniors still need these supplies, but… 

DOWNEY: They shouldn’t be going to the grocery story. They shouldn’t be going to the pharmacy to get their meds. So it’s the logistics of just making sure that they have all the things they need in order to survive. 

For many seniors living independently, that can be a challenge. Downey’s team does what it can, but he says neighbors and communities need to step up. 

DOWNEY: If you have an elderly neighbor even now, go check on them. Go knock on the door and stand back. Talk to them, or leave them a note, or call them, but we definitely need to look out for each other more than we do, certainly have been doing for the last number of years. 

In some cases, being on the outside of a lockdown is more difficult than being on the inside. 

Jane Waln lives near Sacramento, California. Her husband is in the end stages of dementia. He lives in a memory care home and is in hospice. Waln misses their daily visits. 

WALN: It’s been several weeks since I’ve been able to see him. And it’s hard. I miss him. 

Waln says it’s scary not to see his health condition for herself everyday. She depends on caregivers to be her eyes and ears. With the lockdown, the staff are stretched thin and can’t give her updates as often as she’d like. 

WALN: I can’t see him and participate in his life to the extent of the time that I’m there. I don’t know what his activities are particularly.

Waln understands why the lockdown is necessary. But the sad irony is, in the meantime, she will only get to see her husband when he’s about to die. 

WALN: If he is close to passing away then I’ll be allowed to see him and there is a certain tragedy to that. There is something really terrible about that. 

Despite their current separation, Waln knows she and her husband are guaranteed a future reunion, even if it’s not in the memory care home. 

WALN: Because of my faith and because of his faith, I know that I’m going to see him later.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.


(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) Judie Shape, center, who has tested positive for the new coronavirus, but isn’t showing symptoms, smiles as she visits through the window and on the phone with her daughter Lori Spencer, left, and her son-in-law Michael Spencer, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., near Seattle. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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