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For New Hampshire Seniors, Staying Safe From Coronavirus Means Battling Isolation


New Hampshire is one of the country’s oldest states - and many seniors here are doing whatever they can to avoid leaving the house. 

Public health experts warn that elderly people are among the most at-risk for developing serious illness or dying from the coronavirus.

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But as NHPR’s Jason Moon reports, that’s exacerbating a problem that’s already present for many seniors – a sense of isolation.

Monadnock at Home is a non-profit in western New Hampshire that serves about 100 people over the age of 62.

Normally its volunteers offer transportation, help around the house, and simple check-ins to make sure everything is OK.

But Executive Director Susan Faber says to protect the seniors they serve, many visits are cancelled, check-ins are happening by phone, and groceries and prescriptions are being dropped at the front door. Which means those seniors are having fewer and fewer visitors. And that worries Faber.

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“They feel like they have the needs in terms of foods and medications, right now anyways – and that may change as time goes on,” said Faber, “but they are wishing they could get out and see other people more.”

Faber came up with a plan to help with this isolation. Knowing that not every person they serve has Internet access or a computer, she put letters in the mail with instructions on how to join a conference phone call.

Last week about 15 people joined the call. The phone line buzzed with the energy of a reunion.

Joan Winslow told everyone about how she braved the grocery store.

“I was there at 7:05 this morning and the toilet paper aisle was totally out and there was not much bread,” said Winslow.

Callers shared their preferred methods for staying in touch with their families now that in person visits with relatives are just too dangerous.

“Skype, Skype, Skype,” said Owen Houghton.

Cindyy Martell is a bit more old fashioned.

“I still feel, wow the good ol’ telephone is the best way to keep connected with folks,” said Martell.

On the call, they also confided in each other about the things that were helping them get through the days when everything seems so bad. Small moments, like the sound of frogs or a bird out the window.

“I heard some cardinals singing this morning and that was wonderful,” said Dottie Graham.

Gerry Hallgrimson offered a tribute to spring snow piles.

“I hope you’re getting out there and you’re walking on this wonderful sunlit day. Notice the big snow piles. The sun is a great sculptor. It sculpts holes and bridges and all kinds of things in that snow.”

Faber says they’ll hold more calls like this as the pandemic continues. For some, it could be one of the only ways they socialize for weeks, or even months, to come.

Jason Moon is a senior reporter and producer on the Document team. He has created longform narrative podcast series on topics ranging from unsolved murders, to presidential elections, to secret lists of police officers.
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