Sunday Seniors: This winter may be tough for caregivers

  • Liz Sauchelli. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/14/2020 9:47:27 PM
Modified: 11/14/2020 9:47:17 PM

In the spring and summer, there was a bit of a reprieve. The warmer weather made it easier for many older adults — and their caregivers — to spend time outside and socialize.

But as the temperatures drop, senior service providers worry about the impact of “going into winter, when isolation becomes more acute,” said Alice Ely, director of the Public Council of the Upper Valley. She spoke during the Aging in Community Quarterly Forum & Town Welfare Officers Symposium, which was held via Zoom last Tuesday.

Melissa Grenier, regional manager for New Hampshire with the Alzheimer’s Association, emphasized that isolation impacts caregivers.

“Keeping a regular routine and keeping their loved one engaged is really tough,” Grenier said during the forum. “Maintaining that regular routine when things like grocery shopping seem like an insurmountable task is quite tricky.”

She’s also heard from caregivers who are struggling with explaining COVID-19 protocols to their loved ones with memory disorders.

“It takes a lot of energy out of them, and time,” Grenier said.

The suspension of adult day programs and respite care services have compounded that strain. Lori Fortini, program leader at Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Aging Resource Center, said caregivers “really need that extra support” these days.

The center’s staff used to run a support group every other week for people caring for loved ones with memory disorders, but now they host it weekly.

“We are getting people from farther afield,” Fortini said during the discussion portion of the forum. “We really are connecting with quite a few more people.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, community members have organized to take care of seniors in their community. Going into winter, concerns persist about older adults who live alone and may not have family nearby to assist them.

Lyme residents have worked together using phone trees, among other methods, to check in on residents.

“We’ve just sort of put our arms around the community to be proactive and reaching out,” Lyme Parish Nurse Kari Allen said during the forum.

While the tips for helping older adults largely remain the same — stay in touch, reach out, keep them connected to their communities — those lifelines could be more important than ever before, especially heading into winter.

There’s also another concern among providers: the holidays and the potential grief associated with them.

“In the time of COVID, what we as bereavement professionals are finding is there are a lot of losses,” Darcy Bagley, bereavement coordinator at Bayada Hospice, a nonprofit organization in Norwich, said last Thursday during a Zoom presentation hosted by Sunapee Cove Assisted Living. “Many of the people that I’m speaking with have not experienced a loss or a death. They’re just experiencing grief around the things that they’ve lost.”

That includes the loss of normal routines. Emotions including fear, sadness, anxiety, anger, indecision and isolation are common.

“All of these are very similar to the feelings you feel during grief,” Bagley said. “There’s so many unknowns, which is difficult.”

Bagley suggested that people begin to make their plans for the holidays now and figure out ways they can stay connected with their families.

“You can still do cards during the holidays,” she said. “You can still do decorating during the holidays.”

The emphasis remains on staying connected, whether that be seniors reaching out to relatives and friends or vice versa.

“We really don’t want people who are grieving to isolate because that can cause them to really withdraw,” Bagley said. “Remember to stay safe and take care of yourselves. We all are experiencing some level of grief right now.”

Editor’s note: Caregivers can call the Alzheimer Association’s 24-hour hotline 800-272-3900 for assistance. Email for a Zoom link to the Aging Resource Center’s caregiver support group, which meets virtually from 12:30-2 p.m. every Wednesday. For more information about grief support at Bayada, call 802-526-2380 and ask for Bagley.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

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