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Seniors battle loneliness during COVID-19 pandemic

Seniors battle loneliness during COVID-19 pandemic


BURLEY — Magic Valley seniors are a resilient bunch and most are resolutely enduring the isolation and inconvenience that trail along with the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the first sector of the economy opened last week under Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s plan, officials charged with supporting senior citizens in the valley felt frustration that a version of normal is not in sight for them.

“I don’t see us reopening the center in the foreseeable future,” said Jeanette Roe, executive director at the Twin Falls Senior Center.

Roe said centers are waiting for direction on when and how to open from the state’s commission on aging.

Dealing with feelings of isolation has been one of the biggest problems for seniors, Roe said, and those feelings are compounded by the closed center, reduced contact with meal delivery drivers and not even being able to attend the funerals or receive physical comfort when their friends die.

“To our seniors, a lot of the time we are their family and we can’t physically see them anymore,” she said.

Most seniors have been very compliant with self-isolating, she said, but there is no easy answer for quelling their loneliness.

Burley resident Joe Taylor, 94, is blind and was a regular at The Senior Junction’s dining room prior to the pandemic closure.

Afterward, he switched to home delivery for his daily hot meal.

“I would go to the center every day. Out of everybody there, I’ve been going there the longest,” Taylor said.

Going to the center for meals means more than just eating prepared food — it also gives him a chance to interact with his friends and adds structure to the day.

“Yes, this has restricted my activities considerably. I don’t go out much now. Someone else does the shopping and I can’t go with them,” said Taylor, who still sells real estate — long after the traditional retirement age.

“Because I’m blind I can’t do some of the things that I’d like to do if I were sighted,” he explained. “And I’d rather be selling real estate than sitting here and doing nothing.”

Each day is a gift, and he wants to live it fully.

Although the pandemic has curtailed his activities, he doesn’t spend time worrying about it.

“I’m not worried,” he said. “I have six more years to make 100, and everything after that will be a bonus.”

Filling the gaps

Roe said the center’s services include more than preparing meals and providing fun activities. Some of the services like tax preparation help and State Health Benefits Advisor counseling are the most sorely missed.

She has spent hours helping people who are not always computer savvy to navigate the Internal Revenue Service website to get their stimulus checks, helping some sign up for absentee voting ballots and in some cases, helping them file unemployment claims.

“Most of them don’t go online and it’s overwhelming to them,” Roe said.

Although the dining room closed during the stay-at-home order, the center still offers curbside meals and sends out about 240 home delivered meals a day.

The center’s staff is also calling about 1,600 seniors who visited the center in the last couple of years to make sure they are OK and ask if they need anything.

“We’re trying to make sure everyone in our area is taken care of,” she said.

The center has delivered items like toilet paper and other sundries along with food boxes made available through community donations.

“We have been working really hard these last 45 days,” Roe said.

The Twin Falls center has 18 delivery drivers and needs a couple more, but “has been very cautious” about allowing new people into the facility and the center has taken extra measures to protect both staff and clients from infection.

The people who are allowed into the center are limited to staff and meal delivery drivers and they are required to follow a strict protocol of hand washing, distancing and wearing masks.

“My staff and I don’t go anywhere else,” Roe said.

Staff members have self-isolated outside of work in an effort to decrease the chance of exposing fragile people to the virus.

The Twin Falls Senior Center’s biggest need right now, she said, is monetary donations, which can be made on the center’s website, and will be used to help buffer the rising cost of food at the center.

Roe said the center is also looking for people or businesses who can donate 50 Times-News subscriptions, so they can give the newspapers to seniors who would like a copy along with their home delivered meals.

The center had a newspaper subscription donor who can’t continue the donation.

For information on how to donate to The Senior Junction in Burley, call 208-878-8646.

Someone’s knocking

Meal delivery drivers have been trained to have minimal contact with the seniors, said Dixie Conway, Meals on Wheels driver for The Senior Junction.

Each center has developed its own protocol, which can include knocking to make sure the recipient is home, and then leaving the meal on the doorstep to keeping distance from the senior.

“It means a lot to them to have someone show up and just say hi,” Conway said.

Conway has been a driver for four years and said it’s important for home bound seniors to have someone to check on them daily and get help for them if they become ill or fall.

Many clients would love for her to sit with them while they eat, but other seniors are waiting for their meals, so she never lingers more than a few minutes.

For some it is the only human interaction they get, she said, and it can be heartbreaking to know how lonely they are — and then walk away.

“I have one lady that I used to hug every day,” she said. “Now I blow her a kiss and tell her I hope someday soon I’ll be able to hug her again.”


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