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Besides the virus, loneliness poses dangers for seniors 

STAYING CONNECTED

click to enlarge Silver Key recently received an emergency relief grant from the Pikes Peak Community Foundation. - COURTESY SILVER KEY
  • Courtesy Silver Key
  • Silver Key recently received an emergency relief grant from the Pikes Peak Community Foundation.

LONELINESS IS MORE DANGEROUS for one’s health than obesity, and is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to a 2010 analysis cited by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

Because of the negative effects of isolation, organizations such as local nonprofit Silver Key Senior Services normally focus their attention on getting seniors — especially those who are retired and live alone — out of the house and engaged in their communities. Many regular attendees at donation-based senior lunches, for example, say they come to the events for social connection and not necessarily for food assistance. 

Now, though, there’s a bigger threat to seniors than isolation. According to medical experts, people older than 65 are among the most at risk of experiencing serious symptoms from COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. 

“Because of the far greater risk that coronavirus presents, we are doing everything we can to keep [seniors] still connected,” while they are physically isolated, says Derek Wilson, director of development and donor relations for Silver Key, which serves people 60 and older. 

As part of that strategy, Silver Key’s volunteers are conducting regular check-ins by phone through the Calls of Reassurance program to make sure seniors are safe and have basic needs taken care of, Wilson says. 

And the nonprofit has been inundated with requests over the last several weeks. On March 24 alone, Wilson says, Silver Key got 14 calls from seniors who didn’t have food in their homes and didn’t know where to turn. 

“We got them food, but it’s definitely straining our system, because it’s more than normal,” he says. 

MOST OF THE NONPROFIT’S NORMAL SERVICES — such as free lunches, home-delivered meals and transportation — are still operating, just in different ways. 

Seniors can no longer congregate at Connections Café, Silver Key’s donation-based lunches held at sites across the city. Instead, they can pick up five or seven frozen meals for the week to minimize chances of exposure to the virus. 

Silver Key continues to offer home-delivered hot meals for seniors. Through the Meals on Wheels program, Silver Key can currently deliver meals to homebound seniors for a subsidized cost. 

The food pantry is still operating, with changes: “Instead of the client choice model that we normally do where [seniors] can come in and shop for items ... they can just pick up and go,” Wilson says. 

Silver Key recently received a $50,000 grant from the Pikes Peak Community Foundation’s COVID19 Emergency Relief Fund. Wilson says that while the money will help, it will only cover about one month’s worth of meals and rides. 

 That means Roxanne Eflin, Silver Key’s grants and projects manager, and a “younger senior” herself, has her work cut out for her. She’s been working from home full-time since around March 23. 

Eflin’s mother, 88-year-old Joanne Garrison, has been cautious about leaving their shared house for a while. 

“She had a heart attack about a year and a half ago, and so ever since word of the virus came down, we all started paying attention, like a month ago or more,” Eflin explains. 

 Even though they have each other — and Roxanne’s husband — for company, it can be difficult. 

 “I’m really missing seeing my friends in person, having lunch with people,” Garrison says. “I’m a people person... so I’m missing all of that, and trying to just not get too sad and actually being prayerful, because I am acquainted with some personal folks who are fighting this virus right now as we speak.” 

Eflin and Garrison have kept busy by taking walks, cleaning, cooking and chatting with grandchildren with the help of technology. On Sundays, they attend church virtually. 

 When talking with grandchildren, Garrison says they all try to think of “things to laugh about” to stay happy. 

 “The children are having trouble with it as well,” she says. “... I can relate to that, because when I was 8 years old, we were quarantined with scarlet fever. And our daddy couldn’t come home to hug us, because he wouldn’t be allowed to go back to work if he came inside the house. ... It sticks in my head, how lonely that felt, and sad.” 

Maintaining a sense of connection with the seniors in your life — even if you can’t be in the same room — is critical during this time, Eflin says: “If it’s to make a phone call, to write a letter, a card, to wave to them from across the street — to acknowledge them is very, very important.” 

To enroll in the Calls of Reassurance program or request other services, seniors can contact Silver Key at 719-884-2300.

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