Open Mind: Pandemic times: A senior’s perspective

It was a day like any other day – perhaps a bit busier. A visit to the eye doctor; grocery shopping; and a quick top up of gas.

It was March 16, 2020. I did not realize that this would be my last visit to the grocery store. I did not know that my swim at the Y the day before would be my last for six months.

Waking up on March 17, my world had changed. Instead of two or more activities outside the house each day, there would be none. I was to stay at home. I wasn’t to see anyone. I wasn’t to shop unless absolutely necessary. I found the first week especially hard.

I would go out and just drive around with no destination. The streets were eerily quiet, even in the daytime. I realized I wasn’t supposed to do that either.

Beyond missing frequent swims at the Y, I missed the volunteer activities I was used to doing since my retirement. There were the weekly visits to a school where kindergarten children read to me. Now the schools were closed.

There would have been assisting the adjudicators at the Kiwanis Music Festival during April. Now the festival was cancelled. In the summer there would have been book sorting for the Friends of the Guelph Public Library Book Sale.  But the sale was cancelled.

And there would have been visits with the grandchildren.  But they were in their own small “bubble”, and I was their high risk grandma.

It was some consolation that our book club continued to meet by Zoom, as did our Open Mind group.   But meeting in this way, at a distance, definitely left something to be desired. Doctor visits were now by phone, and though likely fine for most routine issues, were less than satisfactory for more complex concerns.

It was a blessing that summer was soon upon us, and I was able to be outside to read and, in time, to enjoy some “social distance” visiting on the patio.

Throughout the past six months of COVID-19, a number of articles have been written about its effect on isolating the elderly, and how this social disconnection puts them at greater risk for depression and anxiety. However, an article in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that older adults already enrolled in studies of treatment resistant depression, exhibited resilience to the stress of physical distancing and isolation.  The older adults said that coping with chronic depression taught them to be resilient.

In addition, a recent study by Alberta researchers found those 60 and older were least likely to be seriously anxious, depressed and stressed about the coronavirus and its fallout compared with those under 25. In part this was explained by the fact that older people have more experience dealing with adversity of various kinds, and have more likely built up some level of resilience.

I like to think that it is those experiences with adversity that have kept me resilient, and will in the months to come. Let’s hear it for older adults!

This article was written by Janet Fowler, retired population health director, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health. The “Open Mind” column is sponsored by community partners who are committed to raising awareness about mental health, reducing stigma and providing information about resources that can help. For local mental health resources/information, visit or call 1-844-HERE247.