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'Living in a cocoon': As coronavirus pandemic grows longer, experts fear isolation's impact on seniors

By Angela Roberts, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Senior Living

BALTIMORE — In the 72 years Dick and Lois Hess have been married, they've watched their country bludgeoned by economic calamities, unrest, corruption and tragedies.

But nothing prepared them for this: eight months of separation, during which they haven't been able to hold hands, hug or sit closer than 6 feet apart, even though they both live in the same Towson, Maryland, retirement community.

It's been a disruptive, difficult and sad period for the pair.

"This pandemic is creating problems with mental health, and the longer it goes, the more people are going to have problems," Dick Hess said.

The ever-lengthening pandemic has stressed the mental health of many segments of society. For seniors, the picture is nuanced: They are resilient, yet eldercare providers and experts in the Baltimore area worry about potential long-term implications for the mental health of some in this age group, particularly those who suffer from dementia or are at risk for it.

Now, amid a national surge in coronavirus cases and fatalities, Maryland and many of its counties are reinstating restrictions on social gatherings — just in time for the holidays, when families would usually come together.

 

Until January, the Hesses had lived together in a one-bedroom apartment at Edenwald Senior Living. Then came surgery and a stint in the community's health care unit for recuperation. That's how the two found themselves in separate units as the coronavirus pandemic bore down on Maryland and Edenwald began restricting outside visitation and movement between units to help tamp down COVID-19 1/4 u2032s spread.

Since March, Dick Hess, 95, and Lois, 92, have been talking on the phone every day and have tried out FaceTime a few times — something they learned to do from their daughter, who lives in Alabama. They've been able to see each other in person only a handful of times, during socially distanced visits in which they are unable to hold hands or hug.

"Everybody here has been living in a cocoon — that's what's been happening," Dick Hess said.

The Hesses' isolation is a microcosm of the stress felt by many, of all ages.

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