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April 15, 2020, 11:24 a.m. EDT

Retirees are finding creative ways to cope with isolation

These independent older Americans, warned to stay home, are adjusting daily routines to keep physically and mentally fit

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By Carol Hymowitz

istock/Getty Images
Creating structure and helping others can stave off the risks of isolation.

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org .

Teresa Elwert usually is out and about every day, doing volunteer work, exercising and meeting up with friends. Four times a week, the 68-year-old leads a group of other retirees in her New York City neighborhood on what she calls “brisk walks” through Central Park, followed by coffee and conversation at a nearby Whole Foods cafe.

As part of her work with the nonprofit Bloomingdale Aging in Place neighborhood group, she also visits older adults in their apartments who need help with their computers and other electronic equipment, and she organizes other volunteers to do the same.

With the pandemic, of course, Elwert’s daily schedule has changed considerably. An avid hiker who climbed Mount Everest in 2016, she still walks six or more miles most days — but by herself. Her home visits to older adults have been replaced with phone calls.

“When I retired seven years ago, I had three goals: to be physically active, socially active and keep learning new things,” Elwert said. “The virus is interfering with my first two goals.”

Risks of social isolation

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing 52 million Americans who are 60 and older to adjust to solitary, secluded lifestyles. The vast majority live independently and are more active than prior older generations. Now they’ve been warned to stay away from family and friends and to halt activities many say keep them physically and mentally fit.

The churches and synagogues, community centers, libraries and other public spaces where they congregate are closed. Their book clubs, adult education courses, yoga lessons, golf and tennis games, volunteer work and other activities have been canceled.

“Being told to stay home all the time isn’t normal living” and can trigger loneliness, said Dr. Linda Fried, dean of the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and a Next Avenue Influencer in Aging.

Stick to a new, daily schedule

Fried advises people of all ages, and especially older adults who are no longer employed, to stick to a new, daily schedule. This should include exercising at home or taking a walk at a certain time each day and doing at-home projects that provide pleasure and a sense of productivity.

“If you don’t have structure, your mind drifts and then you’re at risk of getting depressed,” she said.

Equally beneficial to relieving loneliness is helping others. Even people who are staying home most of the time can arrange deliveries of groceries for frail neighbors or phone them regularly. To stay connected with others, “this is the time to learn to use Skype, FaceTime and other apps — or get someone to teach you,” said Fried.

Coping in creative ways

Teresa Elwert is now holding weekly Zoom /zigman2/quotes/211319643/composite ZM +1.20%   meetings with members of her walking group. On her solo walks, she sometimes teleconferences with a few walkers, who share what they’re seeing on their respective routes.

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July 9, 2020 4:00p
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