FOND DU LAC — One of the most challenging parts of the COVID-19 pandemic for many was the social isolation. But for senior citizens who at a higher risk for the virus, the prolonged detachment from society was devastating.
Few know this better than patrons of the Fond du Lac Senior Center, which was shuttered for 15 months at the beginning of the pandemic and reopened in June 2021.
"COVID changed a lot of things for us," senior center director Cathy Loomas said. "And so we've been building back from where we were. We were shut down completely, which was devastating for us. And our people we saw an increase in physical and cognitive declines."
Loomas said that many seniors' experienced a backslide in mental and physical health during 2020, largely because the activities they once depended on to stay fit were no longer available. Not only that, but many seniors felt isolated from family and friends.
Just ask senior Glenda Brien. Brien lost her husband 12 years ago and going to the senior center to see her friends was part of her daily routine.
“I think being that we’re seniors, I think people, especially if their spouse is gone... they’re lonely. And they just want to be able to talk to people," Brien said.
While Brien has family members within an hour's drive, she said many other seniors who visit the senior center don't have anyone nearby.
"People crave just being able to sit and talk with someone," Brien said.
During the peak of the pandemic, the senior center offered drive-up food delivery to seniors and offered activities online, but Loomans said adjusting in uncertain times was incredibly difficult.
"I think we're almost are at a point where people are feeling like PTSD," Loomans said. "Where we've been through something quite traumatic. We don't really know what it was or understand it. And we're trying to figure out how to rebound from that.”
Lois Pflum said it was very hard adjusting to isolation. While she used FaceTime to regularly communicate with family members, Pflum was excited once the senior center resumed activities.
"Once they started showing the movies again, my neighbor and I started going every month," Pflum said. "It's really nice to meet with all these people here. It's nice to come back and socialize."
The senior center offers fitness classes, clubs for seniors to play cards or pool, guest speakers, foreign language classes and much more. Loomans said the center has also been offering classes to help seniors become more technologically literate so they can participate online.
While the center is back to about 70% of its pre-pandemic activities, it is still in the recovery process. The COVID-19 transmission rate in Fond du Lac is currently low, and Loomans said she hopes seniors will continue to come back. By practicing social distancing and offering online activities, the center is trying to accomodate the comfort levels of all seniors.
"I'm always worried about our people, you know, you want what's best for them and you want to meet their needs," Loomans said. "I definitely feel like they need the resources that we can offer and the programs that we offer. We just have to be respectful and and try and keep everybody healthy as as we start moving around."