Published on March 27, 2020

Lessons of Pandemic Survival: A Senior Masterclass

Michelle Meier, Senior Resource Center

These are challenging and scary times. It seems the landscape of our world changes faster than we have ever seen before. Sometimes within a day. Sometimes within a few hours. And yet, there are people in our community stepping up to care for and provide for the needs of those who need help. Many area agencies, businesses and individuals are selflessly giving to ensure the survival and well-being of the most vulnerable in our community.

For many seniors, this current pandemic feels all too familiar in some ways. As children, they faced polio, smallpox and meningitis epidemics. Parents watched over their children during the polio epidemic, looking for the slightest sign of symptoms. They touched their toes every day, and any slight complaint of stiffness caused them to get checked out and tested. Just as we are faced with stay-at-home protocols, they were not allowed to go out, learned how to be socially distant and to heed the advice of health officials.

Today people in this same group, now age 70 and beyond, find themselves considered one of the highest risk groups during the coronavirus pandemic. They are met with daily checks from their children rather than their parents and now offer up the status of their body temperatures and breathing. Although seniors also face fears as we meander this new trail, this presents a unique opportunity for others to learn from their experiences.

The seniors in our lives are the ones who know exactly how to endure this trying time. Not because they aren’t scared and navigating the same landscape, but because they have been there. They have done this before. They have survived adversity and hardship in their lifetimes and successfully made it to the other side, many more than once. Although no one has all the answers to the coronavirus pandemic right now, the seniors in our world can shed some light on how we will get through it.

Laughter is the best medicine

Kay Brada, chair of the Senior Resource Center board of directors, recalls enduring the polio epidemic. They faced quarantine scenarios where they couldn’t be with their friends and gatherings were limited to small groups of people. During the summer months, people couldn’t go to the pool as there were rumors and misinformation that the spread of polio was related to water.

Worries persisted that you could be infected with polio and yet be asymptomatic and not know you had the virus. Then like now, the medical professionals worked diligently to care for people, often without masks or other protections. Beyond the polio epidemic, Brada’s generation lived through times of war when businesses and communities stepped up to produce supplies and necessities on a broad scale.

As the wife of a retired physician, her best advice heeds caution of where you get ongoing information.

“Listen to your own doctor,” Brada said. “Beyond that, beware of taking in every news story as a resource. The best information will come from world, domestic and local health officials. Keep to the sources that know what is happening, not what may be.”

Brada also notes that laughter is a key to getting us all through this time of home quarantine and isolation.

“If we all have someone we can have a good laugh with, we can stay focused and still realize we will get through this,” she said. “Laughter can get you through A LOT!”

To get through the current landscape, Brada has made it a habit to call a different person every day as a way to plug into her daily dose of laughter. These are calls outside the ongoing updates from her family about her kids and grandkids. As a family, they are also trying to focus on the many good things that will remain after the current wave of coronavirus is past us.

Look toward the future

John Towner is in his early 90s and is very socially active. Towner dances, dates, plays in the New Horizons Band and sings in numerous community and church choirs. He remembers a time during World War II where trips and travel were canceled. For him, those are the times that stood out as the biggest challenge for him both then and now.

“Missing the trips back then bothered me more than anything,” he said. “As for today, my social life has slowed down, but I am keeping up on the phone.”

Towner’s focus is already on planning for the future. His companion has a big birthday coming up, so he is reaching out to her family to plan a celebration. As easy as it is to get stuck in the changes in our daily lives right now, looking towards what we can do when we emerge from social distancing and orders to stay at home will keep us all moving forward and focusing on the brighter days ahead.

Be mindful of others

Joan Martin is one of the Tuesday Painters and has also taught painting classes at SRC and across the country. She is safe and secure at home and finding ways to keep busy. More than anything, she is feeding off the calls and support of those checking in on her.

Martin isn’t relying on memories of surviving past epidemics. For her, the key is pure old common sense.

“It all boils down to common sense and thinking of yourself as well as others,” she said.

Although the SRC building is currently closed to the public, Executive Director Megan Poindexter continues to provide assurance to their partner agencies and others.

“SRC is dedicated to working hand-in-hand with seniors who need to connect with area social service agencies and businesses in these extraordinary times,” she said. “Our staff are all working from home to ensure that the senior population of Douglas County has the support and resources they need in this modern-day pandemic. We continue to brainstorm, troubleshoot and if needed, take action ourselves to make sure seniors have their nutritional needs and health needs met as well as possible. Our team of dedicated staff are anxious to do what they can to support the community until we are all back together again.”

Until then, follow the example of those who have endured pandemics before. Like Brada, the SRC is making calls to check in on people and assure them we will assist them during these challenging times. They are thinking of Towner and planning ways to keep area seniors engaged and healthy. And like Martin, the SRC is using common sense and following the current guidelines mandated by local, state and national authorities.

The Senior Resource Center is available to serve seniors throughout this current crisis. If you need assistance with transportation, food resources, enrolling in Medicare before your upcoming 65th birthday, or need help finding assistance during this challenging time, call the SRC at 785-842-0543 and visit for the latest updates and information.

Michelle Meier is the director of marketing and communications for the Senior Resource Center.

Lessons of Pandemic Survival: A Senior Masterclass

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