FALL RIVER — COVID-19 has been particularly deadly to the elderly, but the consequences of the pandemic on the city’s most vulnerable low-income seniors also include psychological effects and the threat of food insecurity.
Some seniors struggle with the isolation
Patricia, a widow who lives alone and declined to give her last name, said since the start of the pandemic she finds she has become depressed and tries not to watch television reports on COVID-19 because it makes it worse.
Before COVID-19, Patricia often visited the Flint Senior Center, which was a hub of socialization for seniors.
“My life before COVID was altogether different. I was able to go out with my friends, go out to lunch. It was just so different and I felt like I was free. Now I don’t feel that I’m free and that I’m being told what to do,” said Patricia. “I have the fear that I’m going to come in contact with it and I’m all alone and there is no one to care for me. It’s just fear that I have right now.”
Patricia said she has not sought help for her depression.
Jill Gadbois, project coordinator for Bristol County Elder Services, helps run the agency’s food security program and was delivering bags of food and a $25 grocery gift card to 15 of the program’s 48 clients on Thursday morning.
The program, which is nearly at its 50-client limit, is for people age 60 and older who are low income and have been affected by COVID-19 either financially or because they are forced to isolate, usually with pre-existing conditions. The funding comes from federal CARES Act money through the city’s Community Development Agency.
During the twice-a-week deliveries, Gadbois sees some of the struggles her senior clients are facing first-hand, especially for those who live alone.
“They are definitely afraid to leave their homes, they are isolating and it’s tough to see,” said Gadbois.
She said agency staff had a meeting the day before to discuss clients who are in the beginning stages of dementia and the toll it takes as they quarantine against the pandemic.
“They are showing symptoms of dementia and they want to isolate further so they are getting even more lonely and scared,” said Gadbois.
Surviving COVID-19 infection
One of her stops with a bag of a day’s worth of groceries is at the Whipple Street apartment of 64-year-old James Denardo, who recovered from COVID-19.
Denardo said he’s on the mend and has been self-isolating, calling life in the time of COVID-19 “very different.”
“I’m used to going out and doing what I wanted to do, but now it’s staying home and doing what you have to do,” said Denardo, adding before the pandemic he was an active person. “It’s the new normal.”
Getting the twice weekly grocery deliveries from Bristol County Elder Services has been a positive for Denardo.
“It means I don’t have to go out and get them,” he said. “The less time you spend in stores the better. It’s a big help, I really appreciate it.”
Denardo’s 64-year-old neighbor, Sherry (she declined to give her last name) is also recovering from COVID-19 and a severe case of pneumonia that landed her in the hospital between Oct. 10 and Oct. 14.
Becoming emotional, Sherry recounted her debilitating health struggle with the virus.
“I fought hard to get back. I didn’t know pneumonia could knock you down so bad. I walked like a baby, I forgot how to walk,” said Sherry. “I was bedridden and it was my birthday week.”
While she was hospitalized, two parishioners from her church perished due to COVID-19, but no one would tell her because she was so sick.
“I lost good friends. I know what it’s like and I’ve been down that line,” said Sherry.
She’s on the mend thanks to home health care and physical therapy provided to her after returning home from the hospital. On Monday, her doctor reported she was clear of COVID-19.
Friends and family, including Denardo, have been there for Sherry, but she also reached out for help for her mental health, something she wishes more seniors would do, but knows that some of the elderly won’t “because of pride.”
“And that’s not good,” said Sherry.
COVID’S impact on senior mental health and facing food security
Debbie Avila-Carreiro, the nutrition program director for BCES, said there is a hesitancy in the elderly community to talk about mental health.
“I think in our community, the Greater Fall River area, that’s the way everyone was raised that there is a stigma. Some people don’t realize there is help there for them,” said Avila-Carreiro. “We try to keep them engaged with their families, but it’s very hard now with what is going on, but that’s another way we can help them.”
Avila-Carreiro said the agency’s food insecurity program helps not just with nutrition for their seniors, but also with fears of exposure to COVID-19 by having to go to the grocery store.
On Wednesday afternoon, Avila-Carreiro and a staffer were handing out more food bags and gift cards to program participants who can drive-up to the agency’s headquarters at 1 Father DeValles Boulevard twice a week.
Richard Kelley came to pick up the groceries for he and his wife. Kelley, 64, said they are both disabled and on a low fixed income and the extra meals help the couple sustain during COVID-19.
“Prices have gone through the roof, and with the added expense it’s very, very difficult to make it with COVID,” said Kelley, who also supplements their diet with trips to the food pantry.
Daily life during COVID-19 is more than a financial struggle for the couple, said Kelley, and that keeping their spirits up remains challenging.
“That’s a struggle too, we can’t do the things we enjoy,” said Kelley.
Theresa Medeiros, 73, who retired as a city custodian two years ago from One Government Center, picked up her twice weekly groceries. She said she copes with COVID-19 by praying lot and asking the Lord to help.
Medeiros said she has a friend who is elderly and fighting depression during the pandemic. “I call her, I text her and told her anytime she wants I can come and pick her up to go for a ride,” she said.
Mel, 65, (she also declined to give her last name), is supplementing her diet as well as that of her 88-year-old mother with the food insecurity program at the agency.
Caring for her mother, who has dementia and is facing her own extensive list of health issues that make her high-risk to contract COVID-19, Mel decided to retire from her job with the Navy after the pandemic hit and said she is just “very stressed.”
“I hated giving the job up, but I just had to, COVID really did it in for me,” she said.
Not everyone is having a tough time of it
With bags in hand, Gadbois climbs the steep staircase to the second-floor Mulberry Street apartment where Joseph Dias, 83, and his wife, Madeline Dias, 82, reside.
Joseph Dias greets her and invites the masked Gadbois in.
The couple say they don’t mind staying home but venture out occasionally to the market and Joseph Dias said he likes hanging out on his porch when the weather allows.
“I don’t mind staying in the house with you, especially with winter coming,” Joseph Dias tells his wife.
Asked how they get along being together 24/7, Madeline Dias said they “have their days.”
“She hasn’t gotten rid of me yet,” said Joseph Dias.
Email Jo C. Goode at [email protected]