Senior citizens struggle with feelings of loneliness in self-isolation

Senior citizens, a group that’s more likely to develop serious complications from COVID-19, struggle with feelings of loneliness as some do not have access to technology, have lost their routines, and cannot see family in-person to protect their health.



Sgt. Shawn Bean of the Perry Township Police Department chats with Jan Savage while doing a senior-citizen check Friday. The department started its program because of the stay-at-home order brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. [Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch]

Rin Swann, News Reporter

A couple of times each week, the children and grandchildren of Solon resident Connie Koeppen, 78, honk the horn of their car in her driveway. Koeppen steps outside and stands on the porch as they holler back and forth to each other, maintaining a social distance so she can see the family she adores.

For Koeppen, this is the only way she can see her family’s faces. While she calls family members from a landline phone daily, Koeppen doesn’t have a smartphone, WiFi, or a computer, and said she has not actively used a computer since her late husband passed away.

“I just feel like I’m so far behind,” Koeppen said on working with technology. “I don’t know if I could catch up or not.”

Jill Weetman, founder and director of Solon Senior Support, an organization that provides services to senior citizens in Solon, said that difficulty understanding technology is a common problem for older adults.

“It’s definitely a must to be able to connect with people online,” Weetman said. “A lot of these people have not seen their grandkids in two to three months. And so, for them, I think that part of the isolation is very difficult and may have not been that much of an issue before but now with COVID, I think it’s become a definite issue.”

Even seniors who are more adept at using technology describe struggling with feelings of loneliness during COVID-19.

Phyllis Frank, an 84-year-old Iowa Medical Classification Center retiree, said that more than anything she misses interacting with other people.

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Frank has lived alone since her late husband passed away in 2009. Normally, she keeps busy by volunteering at the Senior Dining Program, where she uses one of her great loves — baking — to help others, donating desserts and meals when they are needed.

Now, Frank said she has not been able to do any of that since volunteer groups do not want to expose senior citizens to the novel coronavirus.

Frank, who has a lung condition, is balancing fears of contracting the virus with missing her independence.

“[It’s] just the fact that you do feel very much alone,” Frank said. “I’m not a germaphobe or anything but I try to be careful what I handle, and I wash my hands a lot. I just don’t like the feeling of not being free to do what I want to do.”

The longing to return to normal activities is something Joan Lenardson, 78, understands. The only time she’s seen her family in person since the COVID-19 outbreak is when her daughter drops off groceries, and there was an elongated period of time when the family stayed away entirely when her daughter and son-in-law contracted coronavirus.

Lenardson said she is fearful of catching the virus, but her faith has helped her, and her husband get by. She attends online church services, Lenardson said, but while her computer has been a “godsend,” it is not the same as seeing her loved ones.

“You talk to them on the phone, you talk to them on the computers, but it’s not the same as being able to see their faces, not the same as being able to reach out and touch,” Lenardson said. “There’s a longing to do that. And I think that’s probably the hardest.”

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