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Reconnecting Seniors in Isolation

“You can tell how anxious everyone is when we meet up virtually. We can’t wait to be doing this in person. That’s what everyone says.”- John Senior, a 74-year-old senior program participant, says about their virtual gatherings.   

As many people shelter-in-place, there is one group that has no choice but to self-isolate, our seniors. They are considered one of the most vulnerable populations in this pandemic. COVID-19 can be deadly for immunocompromised people, and especially for seniors. Likewise, isolation can also be unhealthy for seniors. Having a routine schedule is often the best way to maintain mental and physical wellness as we age. During shelter-in-place many seniors now live a quarantined life in extreme isolation. Family and friends distance themselves to ensure safety.   

Besides the isolation, many people are also retiring into poverty. There has been a growing concern for retired Californians who cannot afford housing and essential needs. Seniors may not be aware of resources available for them, or how to access them online. Our Active Older Adults programs for seniors provide multiple services to reconnect them and meet their needs at a time while they quarantine.     

“Some seniors live on a fixed income. We are able to give them vegetables, fruits, a protein, grain, and some type of dairy that should last for a week. We do delivery drop-offs to all our senior participants who need these essential services.” -Tony Ortiz, senior outreach coordinator.   

Some of our programs work with Department of Aging Services, and other seniors connect to the Y through other programs, including our food pantry. We currently serve hundreds of seniors per week in Richmond District alone. Tony leads the program for seniors from the Richmond Y, and continues to work on ways to keep senior participants up to date with information, programs, food, and other essential needs. Tony also leads virtual activities. This past week was trivia and the topic was the History of San Francisco.   


“They don’t talk about COVID, but it’s in the back of their minds. So many times, they say they’re glad someone has given them a call when no one else has. They aren’t getting their regular routine, and they miss that social interaction.”- Tony says.   

Tony knows the effects of this COVID crisis leave so many seniors in isolation. Tony and the Active Older Adults council create online events and get members to call and check in with each other to keep seniors socializing. Sometimes he’ll match people to call each other. He connected two senior women who both came from Korea in their early 20s and have lived very similar lives in San Francisco. They now speak to each other regularly over the phone.  

Our senior members usually got the most out of our open facilities between socializing and staying healthy with programs and exercises in our gym. “My husband recently passed away, and my good friend told me to join the Y again,” Jan, 91-year-old senior participant says, “They helped me when I was lonely. I met many new friends there.” Jan talks about enjoying the Stonestown Y staff and members before the facility closed. Now she says she emails them funny jokes. She can’t wait to do another luncheon, like when they went out for Chinese New Year to a Dim Sum restaurant.   

Analog life maintained Digitally 

Our senior community has gone digital whether online zoom trivia, phone calls, other social programs, and exercise classes. Not only are senior members getting online for trivia, but they are also joining our online exercise classes. Like Helen, 76, says “Oh, I’m okay. I’m really busy. I take virtual classes. I get my exercises in. I do two classes a day. Yoga, strength training, and stretch classes. I have a knee problem so when I do Y360 I can pick what I can do. I’m also doing more yoga classes than ever before!”   

Helen is part of the senior counsel and checks in with her Y cousel and members once a month to discuss the needs within the community. She is grateful to spend time with her family, but misses her Y friends, and discussed alternatives to get them back together while still maintaining distance.   

Being able to go out may not be an option for our seniors anytime soon. Some seniors aren’t as mobile, and some don’t have transportation. Y staff and the senior counsel are working on ways to assist all these lifestyles and needs. Some don’t want to risk going out while others choose senior hours for shopping and also go for walks around their neighborhoods. “We see people in 20s and 30s don’t have their masks. You know, they think they’re invincible, they’re young. They don’t get it. It’s not about protecting yourself, it protects other people,” John, 74, says about venturing out. He says his wife is more cautious and his children don’t want to get him sick, but he likes to get out. He says he’s cautious but not a fanatic because San Francisco was ahead of the game.  

Our programs can offer something for everyone. John, an ex-marine, also says he misses all the social things like the luncheons and trips around the city. He doen’t do the online workouts. His wife, however, does all the Y fitness classes and claims they are tougher than his workouts in the military. Our seniors have adapted to this alternative lifestyle easier than we may have imagined, but many still need support.   

As our most at-risk community waits for our facilities to re-open, we know it will look different for them. In the meantime, we will continue to provide the services they need at the most critical time they need it. Learn more about our Senior Programs here.