THINKING OUT LOUD: Growing Old with Chronic Conditions

Lockdown is Not So Bad for Some Old Folks

Throughout the U.S. lockdown I've been saying to friends (and may have mentioned in these pages), that staying home is more tolerable for old folks than younger ones.

Now, along comes John Leland, one of the finest reporters and writers at The New York Times, to back me up.

Noting that “People age 70 and up account for two-thirds of all coronavirus deaths in New York, though they make up less than 10 percent of the population,” he continues,

'Yet many New Yorkers in this age group are thriving during this catastrophe — skilled at being alone, not fearful about their career prospects, emotionally more experienced at managing the great disruption of everyday life that is affecting everyone.”

That's pretty much what I was thinking and it's nice to have confirmation from another source, especially one I respect so much. Unlike me, however, Leland spoke with half a dozen old people in New York who are making good use of their at-home solitude. A sampling:

“'I'm fine,' [Janet] Wasserman said the other day, taking a break from her research and twice-daily walks with her dog. 'I’m not complaining. In 85 years I’ve seen just about everything that can happen on this planet.

“'If you haven’t lived as long as I have you might think this was the worst thing that ever happened. But people who know history know the difference.'”

Ninety-nine-year-old Sterling Lord is eager to start a new literary agency from his home but frustrated that he can't hire assistants during lockdown:

“'Am I nervous about the virus?' he said. 'Yes. But not that nervous...I have not been out of the house at all since this thing began. It’s very little change. With my work, it’s very easy for me to go the whole day without going outside.'”

In January, 89-year-old Gordon Rogoff lost his husband to Parkinson's disease. He told Leland,

“'Those of us who are older are singled out for a form of house arrest. I like it, actually. I’m recovering some sense of space and time that’s been lost in the hectic arrangements in which we live on a daily basis.

“'I hadn’t realized how deeply immersed in the bustle of contemporary life I have been. One musician, for example, said to me, This is the sabbatical I’ve longed to have. I can see the point, I really can.'”

Leland tell us that despite the grim statistics of nursing home deaths and frightened, isolated elders, the old ones “offer a counternarrative of resourcefulness and perseverance.” As Gary M. Kennedy, director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center and professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, told Leland,

“'The reality is that older adults as a group have a positivity bias,' or tendency to see the good side of situations...

“'Their pessimism and anxiety tend to abate with age. They’re no longer striving for material achievements, so what matters to them now is what’s emotionally satisfying. They’re more likely to say, I’ve been through this before.'”

Well, none of us has been through a pandemic before but I have noticed in recent years that I don't get as disturbed by bad news as when I was younger. I suppose it helps, in this virus circumstance, to be a homebody like me.

What about you?


“You can be young without money but you can't be old without it. You've got to be old with money because to be old without it is just too awful, you've got to be one or the other, either young or with money, you can't be old and without it. - That's the truth, Brick...”

― Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

I find I've enjoyed the lockdown in general. I'm a writer, and I've used this time to work on personal essays, often picking up essays I started months or years ago and finding a way to finish them. I've had two of them accepted for publication in the last month.

I also have had an interesting change in some of my relationships. For a number of years I've met with three of my former work colleagues once a month. We'd go to a restaurant and have a meal, a little wine and some good conversation. Since the virus struck we've met over Zoom, only now we meet once a week. Our conversations have deepened too. This happened spontaneously; I would not have predicted it. But it's been deeply satisfying.

In the same way, my best friend and I, who used to get together once a week, now have a long phone call, only now we do it twice a week. And the people I used to see in yoga class once a week are now in touch by phone and email, which we were not in the days when we saw each other. In other words, despite staying home all the time, my relationships are somehow closer.

The one low note is that I'm not able to see my granddaughter. She is only three, so Zoom conversations are hard, and since her mother works at a hospital, being physically close is not possible. At this age kids grow and change rapidly, and I'm sad that I'm missing this part of her life. But I know that we will be together eventually.

I think what's helped me the most is that in addition to being old, I'm an introvert. I enjoy solitude; it's not a punishment to be home all the time, with my also introverted husband. He and I generally do our own thing all day, then have supper together and spend the evening together. It's a nice comfortable rhythm.

Lockdown has been enjoyable, if detached from global suffering, until a raging tooth infection took over, and insecurity about reaching a doc, etc. kicked in. I think about what you've been through, Ronni, and realize I am a baby at this. Now have a second antibiotic that is helping. And this morning I've dug a few plants in and out. They are like us, always wanting more..........more sun, more shade, more water, more real estate, more population.

As an older introvert I’m good. The only hard thing is when my son stops and I can’t enjoy one of his bear hugs.

I also tend to take on the collective angst of younger families, those w babies, and children at home. As an Aries I want to FIX things for them... but have learned it’s not mine to fix, it’s theirs to grow through, as life is exactly that...

Ditto what WD-40 said. In my mind there are two significant factors in how one copes with this pandemic. 1) one's (usually life-long) inclination to resiliency, taking things more in stride and feeling reasonably confident that we will come through this eventually with most of us being relatively okay, and where we were before it; and 2) whether one is in a place in life where we are thriving, surviving or working very hard to do more than just survive.

Ronni's reminders to Alex to "check your privilege," apply to many more people than those living in large NYC apartments, still engaging in their work and generating income, with access to transportation with a quick call, the ability to order food, groceries, or whatever else they need delivered, and much more. A recent focus in the city in which I live has been on the increase, during this lock-down, in domestic violence incidents, because when you are confined to a small and perhaps uncomfortable and crowded living space with someone with whom you are not comfortable and who may not be kind, things can go bad very quickly.

Checking privilege today seems to me to apply to anyone living in these restricted times whose lives may be inconvenienced, but still reasonably intact, with their basic needs met, and who can look toward the future knowing things will improve again. Imagine being homeless, mentally ill, in a dysfunctional household, having children or other family members with significant illness and disability, and/or dependent on others for your basic needs and don't only check your privilege, but count your blessings and then maybe do something to try to help those who aren't as fortunate.

I'd read Leland's article and liked it but thought he picked an unrepresentative sample: a "super-elder" (not many 91 year olds are starting a business); the widower who deeply needs to rest and recover from caring for his husband, and Janet Wassermann, who has had a severely compromised immune system for 50 years, so has been sheltering for half a century already by her own account.

I mind not seeing my children and grandchild, and friends, but we have food, a comfortable apt. the tech to 'see' them on video chats— it has been no real hardship.

But I predict when one's community re-opens, those over 65 will be told to continue our isolation. We will be a distinct population instead of in this together. We'll feel sidelined and sad— or vulnerable when we try to participate in a somewhat more normal life.

I feel very fortunate to be retired. My income has not been cut off, my small business has not failed, I have not had to lay off employees, I have a roof over my head and ample groceries in the kitchen. My family members are still safe.

There's an internet meme going around that sums it up for me: "My normal daily lifestyle is called quarantine."

Susan R. is right. I echo the same sentiments. I have soooooooooooo much to do around here that I miss some of the news on TV. I worked since I was 6 and retired at 71. It does me good to see this disaster with my current benefits. Thank God I'm sitting this one out. B

I would be fine if I only had me to worry about. I am even ready to leave this world. BUT....I have children and grandchildren! They are who I love and worry about! They are the ones who are being affected by this. They are the ones who could and do lose their jobs. They are the ones who will suffer financially. My grandchildren’s lives have been radically changed. Never mind about me! It’s the ones I love that I worry about.

I agree with so many of the sentiments above. This could not be a better time of my life to be quarantined. Retired, income small but stable, food in my frig, TP in my bathroom. What's to complain about? Surprisingly, I am an extrovert who has sought out connection all my life, but in true Jungian fashion, I've been moving towards introversion these last ten years and now at 75 I am very content with a quiet lifestyle with just enuf human contact to keep me sane. There is much to stimulate my over-active Gemini mind here at home and I enjoy my own company, so I feel blessed and grateful. In a life of many challenges, resilience has been my middle name, and it has not failed me now.... I was so glad to hear this opinion from Leland and others. Thanks for hitting the mark again, Ronni!

You are right Ronni, older folks don’t get as disturbed by bad news as younger ones. A study in 72 countries has shown that people over 65 are much happier than those of 25 to 35. Along the years older persons have learnt to mitigate the negative events in life and accentuate the positive. It could be an age-related positivity effect. Science also shows that there are age-related brain changes that contribute to this positive effect, it’s biological. Neuro-imaging has demonstrated the difference in brain activation between older and younger adults (the older ones kind of forget negative events, or are not scared by them as younger adults are.) This study has revealed that there is a similar pattern of happiness in older chimpanzees and orangutans! We are not unique.

Older people realize that there are not that many years left. They control their emotions better and live better in the present. Better be still happy today, because it’s now or never, isn’t it? Youth might have been a privileged moment and I can fondly remember it, but now I don’t have as much stress. I think the years have brought a serenity that took a while to achieve. Despite losses and some physical decline I am happy, because I want to be happy, now. I feel most old people feel the same; they have become wiser with the years.

I don't mind SIP since I have several fun activities that I love to do (sewing, quilting, making bread, etc). I still hate cleaning. The big stressor for me is getting food & necessities since I don't shop because of age & serious medical conditions, which make me most vulnerable. I am lucky that my daughter shops for groceries, but then I face the anxieties of wiping everything down with disinfectant wipes & worry if I am being thorough enough. The deluge of fake & dangerous news, plus the saddest life experiences of so many people leads me towards depression. So it's just not a matter of my daily life, but worry about my loved ones while we are apart & facing the fact that I would not survive this infection that produces constant tension.

Certainly no problem here. The weather has finally turned warm and dry and I am out in the backyard working more. Even so, being homebound has not been a problem for my husband and me. There is so much to read. I am writing more. I am thinking. I cook dinner every day. Occasionally I bake something really good. It is all well. I'm really not looking forward to having demands made on my time and having obligations I must meet.

Hah! Like Salinda Dahl, I too came down with a flaming tooth infection a few weeks back, and had to leave the house for antibiotics, and for a tooth extraction. At one point my chin looked like there was a small tomato glued to it. Anyway, it all got taken care of, and I'm fine.

I'm going to be contrarian and disagree that you need a lot of money to tolerate being old. I have a very small income--but I also have very few expenses, reasonably simple tastes these days, and pleasure in just hanging out at home, where I spend (far too much) time on the computer. I belong to several online groups, including a recovery group, and I've been using zoom a LOT, and loving it. And in the evening, I have my choice of a variety of streaming services--though I admit, I tend to be riveted on Maddow, Anderson Cooper, and other news commentators.

In fact, I notice that I enjoy thinking that, far from being alone in being home, I now have lots of company, since so many of us are home! So--doesn't bother me at all. I WOULD like to see the pandemic end, of course.

I have been locked down since April. I miss my husband.

Wow - most of these sentiments really make me angry. I'm ok - fuck those who aren't!
Personally I would much rather be out there on the front lines doing something useful.
Yes, I have my big apartment over the lake, and I have all my wonderful neat devices but thousands and millions are dying alone - unable to even say goodbye to children and grandchildren let alone husband and lovers and just those we love.
Its horrible! I wish I was young, healthy and poor but able to help.
No offence to anyone - just have to say the way I feel. Rather depressed I suppose.

Betty-you can help, even without medical skills. Make masks for others; they are needed by so many people. They don't have to be medical grade, but layers of fabric is more protection from respiratory droplets than going without. Places that need them are endless: senior centers, senior communities like assisted living, "essential" workers who have no PPE, homeless shelters, care-givers. There are loads of how-to videos online. If you are able, pick-up groceries for those who cannot. Check up on elderly neighbors. By doing something for others, we can do something to fight depression during these extraordinary times.

Hey Betty Bishop, What you say resonates with me. I am personally very ok as I am an intovert and love to read, walk, enjoy my dogs and parrot and have security ...house, food, etc. ; however, thinking about mankind, Europe, the USA...younger folks...a lot to be depressed about...were I to let myself which I will not. It is not about me. It is about we are all connected and the ship has some significant leaks which if not repaired we all go down..yes, hard to disengage from that and say, " hey, I am fine, I am an introvert. " I hear you.

Stay safe everyone...stay sane...



Thanks for the article.
have a couple of comments. I work, I have a career and I want to have another one! (over 70) Not all of us are out of the work force. There seems to be an old way of thinking and labeling that we all stop working at 60 or 65 and bask in our past and gardening, letting all of our acquired learning and experience to dissipate. Really kind of find that insulting, very dismissive and wow what a waste.
In addition, the economic realities of the day require a lot of us to keep working. I fortunately have employment that allows me to continue working online and so have been able to maintain a pay check. It also helps me to stay engage, that and of course all the online opportunities.
On the other hand I am a full on introvert and even though age helps you to learn some socialization tricks, I feel like this is a dream come true! Work in the world no small talk, no extrovert domination :) yeah!

My husband and I are doing fine with the "safe at home" here in our state. We actually seem to get along better now. But both of us wish we were able to do more out in the community to help. Best we can do now is help a neighbor who is 20 years older than we and donate to local food pantries and meals on wheels. Spouse has had a lot of experience with bird flu, so he is frustrated that with his age and health issues, he can no longer contribute other than to encourage people to stay safe. Meanwhile, we text and email and call and Facetime with family and impatiently wait until we can get those grandkid hugs again.

To those who spoke to me - I am 86 years old, I have COPD and have had pneumonia a minimum of 3 times - I now sleep an average of 10 hours a night and I neither have a sewing machine or a desire to sew masks although I would if I could but who the hell would ask a 86 year old with COPD to sew masks? I certainly would not.
Don't get me wrong aside from this epidemic I have loved being old - I have found it to be a time of real learning and understanding of ourselves and what we are made of as well as noting what to me seem to be small coincidences or what I call "little miracles".
But I would volunteer to visit lonely old people in a minute if I could even if it might take my life [although not on a machine - with assisted death yes] but do I have the strength and even if I did who would take me. It is nobody's fault but to my way of thinking we are really useless excess now.

PS - I must admit I am also a recluse and seldom left my apartment except to go for a swim or meet a friend. I actually also love this aloneness - writing, painting, reading, computing, movies it is all great. But I would give it back in a minute if they find something to slow or stop the monster roaming around out there. I am sure most of you would too.

I’m in a rather odd position. We are doing our sheltering in Japan with our sons family.

We had agreed to watch our 4yo granddaughter during her school break as parents here still working. So we came over in mid-March. Now we are stuck here until at least June 1 when the next flight home is scheduled.

Where we are ( not Tokyo) the infection rate is low ( it’s worse at home in the US) and much less locked down here.

We can get out and did a few hours with the cherry blossoms- it was great as there were no crowds at all. We had the park to ourselves. Almost unheard of due to high tourism most other years.

Other than this we are staying in and close to home here. We may actually be a bit more at risk here since the kids are working outside the home and granddaughter is now back in kindergarten so we are not as isolated like we would be in the US.

I do agree that it is easier for retired and older people to deal with this. Also I find not watching or reading the news really helps my mental health. I just no longer give a crap. I can’t do anything about it and my state is so conservative that trying to impact the political process is pointless. So I just ignore most of it. I do look at the virus statistics online though.

We're getting by with Netflix, Zoom, Facetime, lots of books and a little gardening. But I sure do miss my activities, my classes, my friends . . . and the ability to be able to plan ahead!

Sure, the lockdown is not so bad if you are retired, have a regular Social Security check plus perhaps a pension and 401K withdrawals. It might not be so easy to handle if you’re a guy whose job has been reduced to one day a week telecommuting, who has two young teenagers at home, a wife who is disabled and in pain that she treats with alcohol, a marriage that was already in trouble and is now suffocating because of the enforced closeness of the lockdown. A guy who has to do all the cleaning and foraging for food in markets crowded with would-be hoarders, a guy who lives in an urban area where the so-called stimulus check is a drop in the bucket in terms of compensation for wages lost. Or what if you’re a young gay autistic man who had struggled to complete an Associate Degree and was just getting started on an independent life when the layoff axe stopped everything for him.

Not everyone is having an easy time going through what amounts to martial law to enforce shelter-in-place. Thank you to Gail, Cathy J, and Betty Bishop for recognizing the reality of what this horrible situation means to most people.

I’m fortunate to have a reasonably good income, a fully paid-for home, a frugal lifestyle, and a preference for an introverted life myself. But I feel compelled to use what money I have to help those in my family who are struggling because I am the only one with the funds to do so. I will help even if it becomes a hardship to me, because my family has been there for me when I needed help in shopping for groceries and other things. Sure I lost a chunk of my small investment portfolio, but when I get that so-called stimulus check, I intend to immediately divide it among the unemployed members of my family, because I can do nothing else to help them and somebody must do it.

This is not so different from my usual life. Before I went out to karate class, now karate class comes to me via Zoom. Before I did Feldenkrais method "lessons" and workshops both online at home and in person; now I do them online at home. Before I went out to occasional music performances, walking to meet friends at jazz clubs or taking the subway to Lincoln Center or to a friend's large prewar apartment near Columbia where they have stellar chamber music house concerts. Now I listen to music through my computer and the attached sound system that an audiophile friend helped me set up. When I went out, before, it was the exception, and I always cycled back home to my apartment and cats. I'm an introvert. I need long spells alone. And if anything, I have less undisturbed solitude now, with friends and family calling to check if I'm all right or to relieve their own loneliness and anxieties. Unlike normally, I can't not answer the phone, because they'll think I'm dead! I'm in New York!

Besides being an introvert, the type who always "had my nose in a book," before this I was a caregiver for ten years, which involved increasing isolation and seclusion. So I've had a lot of practice. And on top of that, I learned from Jacques, whose whole world was shattered when he was in his teens by the aftermath of WWII, that anything can happen at any time. That too was good preparation. I am less surprised than many Americans by this development. For one thing, scientists and science writers have been warning of its inevitability for years. Hanging around science publishing, you know that. And I had the sense that our world had become a house of cards, and that SOMETHING was going to give it the little nudge that would bring it down. We haven't seen the half of it yet. It is going to be hell, especially for the most vulnerable. It's also an opportunity. Personally, I have reasons to live but no particular right or necessity to. I'll protect myself and those I love as best I can, while knowing I am dispensable and, from nature's point of view, as another member of this renegade species, part of the problem. I have my "drugs"—karate, my antidepressant, and an online connection with a once and possibly future lover, my stimulant. I have enough to eat, and work to do. I can't complain!

Also, I agree with Emma about giving away the stimulus check (if I get it; I have back tax debt, so may not) to those I know who need it to survive for another month, because I do not. I'm not wealthy but I have security, largely due to my family of origin, which still has my back, rather than to some brilliant career. And I am aware what a luxury modest security is.

I feel rather anxious about what will happen in Paris next May 11th , anxious for my children and grand children. As I am retired, I won't take the tube or bus , I will wait and see, stay in quarantine, day after day, it is long, it is hard not to speak directly to a human beeing, we cross the street when somebody is arriving on the other side; Thanks to you Ronni and all the commentators, you are wonderful people !

I am doing okay with pandemic restrictions and I know people who are not doing okay. I know of at least one elder who is in a bad position right now, and of course a lot of younger folks who are barely surviving the hardships caused. However I think that in general (and of course there are exceptions) Mr Leland is right, older people are coping with the isolation better than many younger people, in part because of different expectations and abilities to handle isolation and in part because of retirement resources.

I am doing okay and also, while I was sick I had younger people helping me out. I don't think that would have happened in ordinary times. I got the distinct impression that the people who were helping me felt grateful for the opportunity to feel useful. Maybe that's part of our job as elders, to make others feel useful.

My husband and I are OK about the necessity to stay at home . He still goes on his bike rides every other day and runs on the treadmill in the garage the other days. Of course, we are sorry that so many people have no job or no income with the resulting problems to deal with. My grandchildren all live at home - 2 sets of 3 grown kids, and their parents still have an income (although it is disrupting a job start for one planned for May). But, at least, they are not destitute, have food and shelter. So I consider this among my many blessings daily.

I am exercising more than before the lock-down as I walk everyday in the neighborhood for 30 mins. and I work in the yard at least an hour everyday. I miss the once a week yoga class but I do various yoga postures a few times a week here at home. I am more adventurous with my cooking for our dinner now b/c it is much better to have a tasty meal and it has to be at home. We take turns grocery shopping when we run out of everything, and now it is required here to wear a mask to get in the stores.

For about the past 4 years I had knee and hip pain from arthritis and a torn meniscus in left knee ...tho after the laser repair it was fine. But my right knee and hip were very painful and I had a hip replacement almost 11 months. So I was unable to do any yard work thus hired gardeners to tame my jungle. Now I am thrilled to say I have put in a garden with tomato plants, sunflowers, sweet peas, wildflowers, and I am able to weed, and also to prune the out-of-control natives all over my "drought tolerant" yard.

I, like so many, am an introvert as well and love to read, but before the pandemic I frittered away lots of time just looking at the thrift shops nearby. So the lock down has led me to clean out my old photos and separat what I want to keep and what to send to the children...cleaned out articles saved from graduate school in 1989 (!) and also clear out desk of paperwork daily that were saved for some reason. It's a trip down memory lane.

Yes, I miss going out for lunch and a movie with a few different friends every month, and also my weekly yoga and art classes but the days just zip by and I am pleasantly surprised that now I can sit on our patio and look at all my beautiful roses and flowering plants and really appreciate them. Before I would just worry about what needed to be watered and what needed to be done etc. etc. etc. instead of just soaking in the peace and serenity.

I just want to be able to talk, face to face, sans mask, with my friends.
I want to have breakfast with someone other than Kelly and Ryan.
I need a personal confrontation with a Trump supporter.
I want to return to my duties as a member of the resident's council, and hold one of our very lively group meetings.
But mainly, I want to be able to order some food from my favorite Chinese restaurants who have not been able to make deliveries to us since March 13.

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