After 15 months at home, seniors are struggling to return to ‘normal’

Posted at 12:26 PM, Jun 29, 2021

For the better part of 10 months, countless seniors across this country have been suffering in solitude, afraid to leave the house for fear of catching COVID-19.

One of those seniors is my 90-year-old grandmother, who we affectionally call Nanny.

She lives just outside of New York City in a single-story home that she first bought more than three decades ago with her second husband and the man who I always knew as my grandfather. But after he passed away, it was just Nanny, living alone in her house filled with art, family pictures, and relics of the past.

The pandemic has been tough for this proud, Italian New Yorker who thrives off of family gatherings and trips to Broadway musicals. Back in February, Nanny got both of her COVID-19 vaccination shots and she has slowly started to emerge out of the house which has been her safe haven since March of 2020.

"I've stopped cleaning the groceries. I still leave the mail out for a little while, but it's not like it was," Nanny explained.

It did not take long though to see how truly life-altering the pandemic has been for seniors across this country. Nanny still hasn't been to the grocery store since getting vaccinated. Even Sunday Mass, inside the church, feels a bit too daunting.

COVID-19 has left Nanny and countless other seniors across this country with a form of PTSD.

"I always had my suitcase by the door. I was always ready to go no matter where it was, and I'm not like that anymore and I hate it. I don't want to be here in the house all the time," she expressed.

"How do you know when you go to a ballpark that someone sitting next to you has been fully vaccinated? How do you know?" she worried.

Her concerns and fears are not unfounded. Two weeks ago, after a brief trip to the beach and fully vaccinated, my 90-year-old grandma caught COVID.

Nanny is part of a very small percentage of Americans who have come down with "breakthrough" infections. It’s something that infectious disease experts like Dr. William Schaffner were fully prepared to see.

"Your grandmother, bless her heart, is going to recover and the vaccine helped her do that,” Dr. Schaffner said.

Dr. Schaffner notes the small number of breakthrough infectious being reported nationwide.

"It’s important to keep your focus on the large picture: cases are going down, hospital cases are going down, and that’s because the vaccine is working," he added.

Because she was fully vaccinated, Nanny's symptoms were not severe. She never required a trip to the hospital and is feeling much better.

But she has not escaped from the pandemic unscathed. It's clear how much her mental health has been impacted by the last 15 months.

"Life has thrown me a lot of curves and I usually managed to talk myself out of it. But this time, just feels different," she admitted as we talked.

Time is something so many seniors lost this last year. While it will take time, Nanny is ready to regain so much of what she lost.

"I still have a lot of hope and that keeps me going."

Chris Conte is a National Correspondent for E.W. Scripps. He shares this story with his grandmother as part of an ongoing series on the COVID-19 pandemic.