FALMOUTH — As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, many aspects of life remain in upheaval. But while we’ve all had to make adjustments over the last five months, the pandemic continues to most severely disrupt – and threaten – one group in particular: our senior citizens.

In Maine and across the country, seniors endure as the population most vulnerable to the deadly virus. As of Aug. 14, more than 83 percent of the state’s 126 confirmed deaths were individuals over the age of 70. This trend echoes nationally, as the elder demographic has consistently maintained a high mortality rate, even as the median age of individuals infected with COVID-19 has fallen in recent months.

We’ve experienced the pandemic’s effects firsthand at OceanView at Falmouth, an independent-living retirement community with a continuum of care. Our residents have met the challenge with grace and determination, exemplifying civic duty and empathy to ensure the safety of their neighbors. If not for their vigilance, our experience surely would have been graver.

Still, we have not been immune – as no one is – to the toll this pandemic exacts. We have grieved not only for the passing of friends and family members, but also for the loss of the lives we used to lead – our daily rituals so important to our wellness that are no longer possible.

We know this grief is not unique to OceanView. In response to their heightened risk, seniors everywhere have been compelled to self-quarantine or, at minimum, significantly alter their daily lives. Though necessary for individual and public health, these efforts have created a new set of health challenges that can be more difficult to identify yet are equally devastating – isolation, loneliness and depression.

Activities like large-group exercise sessions, regular lunch outings and visits with friends and family don’t take place or have been significantly curtailed. Routine conversations and interactions with neighbors are now more distant and infrequent, and many living in rural areas lack adequate internet coverage and the technology to connect with others virtually. Countless seniors in retirement communities and assisted living facilities throughout the U.S. are still unable to receive visitors, as fears of additional outbreaks in these settings remain high. And those who do fall ill and require hospitalization are often forced to experience their ordeal alone, without in-person support from loved ones.

While the virus has inflicted significant fear and uncertainty among our most susceptible, it has also unveiled their courage and resilience. When faced with this once-in-a-century pandemic, seniors across America rose to the occasion. At OceanView, we had our residents’ full support and cooperation as we implemented a stay-at-home order and closed our campus to non-essential outside visitors. And with their ongoing commitment to following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention best practices – like wearing masks, social distancing and properly disinfecting surfaces – we’ve been fortunate to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 since the initial outbreak.

Our residents have also creatively adapted to this exceptional adversity by initiating new, socially distanced hobbies and pastimes. Last month, a small group decided to begin painting outdoor landscapes around OceanView’s campus “en plein air,” inspired by French Impressionists in the 19th century with newfound freedom following the invention of transportable paints in tubes. Artists across the community joined in to participate, and 12 residents created 21 pieces of art that were auctioned off to support the Falmouth Food Pantry.

Speaking to our colleagues at other communities, we know we are not alone in setting this example. In many ways, living with the pandemic has become normalized. Social distancing requirements are now expected, along with limiting the number of people in group gatherings. Staying at home aside from essential activities is common. But even with new and safe hobbies and pastimes, seniors’ lives continue to be radically upended – with vulnerability to COVID-19 looming over every day.

So, with this in mind, take a moment to reach out to the seniors in your life on Friday, World Senior Citizens Day. Thank them for meeting this moment with collective strength. Express gratitude for their grit in facing a fearful unknown. And, most importantly, empathize with their losses and continued sacrifice, which are far too often overlooked.


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