May 1—The Joplin area next week plans to take a big step toward returning to normal when the Area Agency on Aging, Region X, reopens its seven senior centers.
Due to declining COVID-19 cases and an increasing number of people getting vaccinated, the agency will reopen its senior centers in Joplin, Webb City, Carl Junction, Carthage, Neosho, McDonald County and Barton County on Monday. The buildings have been closed for more than a year because of COVID-19, which has had a disproportionately deadly effect on older adults.
The reopening process will happen as safely as possible, agency officials have said, to help reduce transmission of the virus. Certain activities will be offered on specific days (pool on Monday and Friday, bingo and lunch service on Tuesday and Thursday, cards/games and exercise classes on Wednesday), and guests are asked to call ahead to sign up for activities before they arrive. Everyone also will be asked to wear a mask and maintain physical distancing.
This is great news for our elderly residents, who finally have the opportunity to return to a semblance of normal socialization after a long year of solitude.
Lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, working or attending classes from home, and general self-isolation to protect against COVID-19 have had a debilitating effect on many people who had trouble coping with the socially distanced impacts of the pandemic. And that has been true for senior citizens.
Overall, 1 in 4 adults aged 65 and older reported anxiety or depression in August 2020, a rate that was relatively constant since the pandemic started in March of that year, according to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Those rates were higher among older adults who are female, Hispanic, low income, in relatively poor health or who live alone.
Former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has highlighted the association between loneliness or the absence of social connections and worse physical and mental health, including anxiety and depression. Among older adults specifically, extensive research has documented the connection between loneliness and increased risk of premature death, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety and suicide, the foundation noted.
The pandemic has been hard on all of us, but our older family members, friends and neighbors have had a particularly rough time. Monday marks a real turning point in being able to get our lives back on track.
To the Area Agency on Aging and its senior centers' staff and volunteers: Good luck with reopening. We hope it goes safely and smoothly. And to the senior center regulars: Stay safe and have fun.