Blog Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging COVID-19

COVID-19 and Compounding Losses

by Barbara L. Finch, MLA, Alumna, Washington University in St. Louis

The older adults I know are scared.

In the independent living retirement community where I live, eight months of isolation because of Covid-19 is beginning to take its toll.  While we are no longer “locked down” like we were during the first few months of the pandemic, life has changed dramatically for most of us.  And not for the better.

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Gone are cheerful dinners at the community table, where we could linger over coffee and dessert and conversation.  Now we are limited to two people per table; those who are fortunate enough to have spouses are running out of things to talk about.

Also gone are happy hours, holiday parties, bridge games, book clubs, musical events,  and visits in other people’s apartments.

We are grateful that the stringent measures taken to keep us safe and healthy here have worked; we have had no cases of Covid-19 in our community.  But what we do have, for many, is a great sense of loss and unease. We are scared that life might not return to normal while we are still able to enjoy it.  We are frightened about the political climate in our country. We are concerned that the stores and restaurants we used to enjoy will no longer exist when this is over.  We worry that we may never be able to travel again.  And we worry about our children and grandchildren, many of whom we have not seen for a very long time.

Personally, I am scared that I will never be able to hold a baby again.

When the losses that come with Covid-19 are added to the “normal” losses that accompany aging, the costs seem enormous to many of us.  We have accepted the fact that we have lived a long time and we are  old.  But for everyone who is fortunate enough to grow old, there comes a tipping point:  that time when our inevitable losses outweigh our hard-won gains.

Our physical losses are well-documented and easily observed:  thinning hair and thinning bones, diminished sight and hearing, artificial hips and knees.  The emotional losses may not be so  well-noticed:  our children move out of town or divorce breaks up their families; our careers have ended and many of us feel useless.  We watch our good friends and close neighbors become ill, infirm, and die.  Modern technology confounds us and we feel stupid.  Everything shrinks:  our height, our social circle, our appetites, our willingness to try new things.

Before the onslaught  of Covid-19, we tried to maintain our lifestyles, our interests, our health, our humor and our dignity.  It is becoming harder every day.  If we are honest and realistic, we admit, maybe to ourselves and maybe to others, that our world is growing smaller.  We are diminished.

And we may never again be able to hold a baby.