Seniors stay connected during pandemic
It was a typical Wednesday morning at 10 a.m., and members of the Darien’s Men’s Association were having a lively, interactive conversation.
There was one part of their discussion, however, that wasn’t so typical — the entire meeting was being held virtually.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the DMA, as well as all other groups and clubs throughout Darien and beyond, has been trying to find other ways for its members to connect. That is especially true for senior citizens, who are being advised to “Stay safe, stay home,” and not come into physical contact with friends or relatives.
Due to this, the DMA — a nonprofit social group in which retired and semi-retired men ages 50 and over can find good fellowship, friendship, and fun amidst a range of activities — has had to adapt.
The DMA, which usually meets at the Darien Community Association, has been making effective use of Zoom and gotomeeting.com to hold virtual meetings — and have had great success, according to Charles Salmans, head of communications.
According to Salmans, before the coronavirus pandemic, each meeting was typically attended by 100 to 115 members. The first virtual general meeting had 84 members sign in.
“This is a group with an average age of [in their] 70s,” Salmans said. “To get 84 people online is pretty remarkable.”
During their meeting, members traded experiences about uncrowded places in which to take walks.
“Pear Tree Point Beach has been pretty crowded,” said Salmans, adding suggestions for more isolated walks are at Waveny Park in New Canaan, Stamford Cove Beach, Sherwood Island State Park in Westport and Fairfield Beach. At this time of year, there are no entry fees for access to those beaches, he said.
They also spoke about the best time to grocery shop. “It’s not necessarily at the so-called early opening senior hour,” Salmans said.
They made suggestions as to which supermarkets make it easy to order online and bring orders to the car.
“Palmer’s is good, and [a grocery store in Stamford] has “such a backlog that you may not be able to pick up your order for days,” he said.
While social gatherings that DMA members regularly participate in as a group, such as pickleball, bowling, or outdoor adventure trips, are not taking place at this time, many others, such as their current affairs and book and investment discussions, can flourish in a remote setting, according to Salmans.
In fact, their investment group, which had been meeting monthly, has decided to meet weekly while online.
“The markets are changing so much that people thought having a weekly meeting might be advantageous,” Salmans said.
They have also held their book discussion group, led by member Harris Hester, which discussed the book, “Midnight in Chernobyl” by Adam Higginbotham.
Typically, this book discussion, when held in person, attracts about 18 to 20 attendees, according to Salmans. The virtual book discussion had 22 members.
“We declared ourselves ‘zoomers,’’’ Salmans said.
“The technology worked very well,” he added. “With everyone locked in place at home, we may get bigger attendance at these discussion groups than ever before.”
The DMA’s next task is to organize outside speakers — which have always been a very popular component of the association’s activities, according to Salmans — to join remotely.
Additional discussion groups the DMA is holding remotely include Current Events and Money Matters.
“We’re rather proud that a bunch of old guys may be on the leading edge of social interaction in our current situation,” Salmans chuckled.
“I think it’s a good lifeline for our members,” he said, in regard to the association’s virtual setup.
Despite the high virtual turnout the DMA has had so far, Salmans made it clear they are by no means preferred over in-person gatherings.
“I think we all will look forward to a time when we can physically meet again because there is no substitute for that,” Salmans said.
He added however, that in this time when everybody is self-isolating, “It’s very nice to have this human reaction, albeit remotely. We all crave being part of a social group, and this is really the only safe way to do that these days.”
The next membership meeting of the DMA will Wednesday, April 8, at 10 a.m. For more information about the DMA, visit dariendma.org. The DMA is waiving its $100 membership fee until the group’s face-to-face meetings resume. Anyone who would normally qualify for membership (men over 50) who wants to be on the email list may write to DarienDMA@gmail.com.
The Darien Library is offering live reference services weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. This is for everyone and not just seniors. Patrons may call 203-669-5236 and be connected to a Knowledge and Learning Services librarian.
“Whether someone needs information about filing taxes, details about our electronic resources, or assistance navigating the COVID-19 information overload, we’re here with the answers,” said Brittany Netherton, head of Knowledge and Learning services.
The library has also begun curating a list of popular digital programs, story-times, concerts, and resources for patrons of all ages at a page on the Darien Library website called Find Delight in Your World.
In addition, library staff will be reaching out directly to patrons’ inboxes three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays with specially created content for readers. Patrons can connect with the library 24-7 on social media @darienlibrary.org.
“We continue to actively explore options for remote programs such as book groups, and will be sharing new programs with our patrons in the coming weeks,” said Elisabeth Gattullo Marrocolla, the library’s associate director of public services.
Darien Senior Center
On the Darien Mather Center’s website, there’s a list of suggestions for activities to do at home. The list includes “knitting, making a collage or scrapbook, writing a memoir or poem, doing jigsaw puzzles, watching TED Talks, working on a home project, reorganizing drawers, and organizing and labeling old photographs.
Additional ideas on the list include learning a dance on YouTube, doing an exercise video, planting one’s garden outside, and redecorating.
During this period, Darien resident Peter Eder, who is very active in the town’s senior community, said he is staying connected to others through chatting on the phone, emailing and texting.
While there’s no preferred method of staying connected during this time — and during any time — Eder said one of the most important aspects of successful aging is “ensuring a broad base of friends and contacts.”
Those contacts are “vital” to have as one grows older, he said.
“While it becomes harder for folks as they age, and their family members and friends die or become incapacitated, it is vital to finding new contacts and building new friendships,” Eder said.
He said that in today’s times, everyone should bear in mind that isolation is not the same thing as social and personal “distancing.”
He reiterated the importance of staying positive.
“It should be emphasized that personal interactions are even more important today — from a six-foot distance, an elbow bump, a phone conversation, a Skype, a text, an email or any social media posting,” he said. “And it should be positive and encouraging — not necessarily a pity party.”
For those who need assistance during this time, contact Ali Ramsteck, director of Darien Human Services by sending an email to email@example.com.