Laughter and music echoed through an otherwise empty space at Bayfield’s senior center Wednesday as three women did strength exercises – rare sights and sounds since the center closed in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
When the center’s doors shut, Bayfield seniors lost one of their main social spots during an already isolating time. But a weekly exercise class, the center’s first attempt to relaunch programs, is reviving that sense of community.
Because aging adults are more vulnerable to serious cases of COVID-19, the coronavirus pandemic shut down senior life. Around the country, long-term care centers closed their doors to visitors, and families started visiting virtually. The Pine River Senior Center is still closed except for the senior strength and flexibility exercise class, which restarted in July. For participants, it offers something to look forward to – and hope.
“They don’t have contact with anybody sometimes. Some of them, their family doesn’t even come around because they’re afraid or don’t want to get their parents sick,” said Brenda Jones, senior center coordinator. “I’ve observed differences in memory and their mood. ... When they’re at home, they only see those four walls, and so depression might come in.”
When Pine River Senior Center closed, seniors lost their weekly opportunities to gather for meals or games. The seniors wanted to do something – any type of movement, Jones said.
The instructor, Sharon Hunter, adapted the strength and flexibility class to continue during the pandemic. At the class, participants gather their exercise materials then sit in chairs, spaced almost 6 feet apart, on the back porch of the senior center. They don’t share equipment, which is sanitized, and the class is limited to 12 people. Because the class was outside Wednesday, face coverings were optional, Jones said.
Hunter leads the students through gentle exercises that activate muscles, loosen joints and build flexibility. She incorporates some physical therapy exercises, particularly helpful for those who had knee surgeries or past experience with physical therapy, participants said. The class occurs Wednesday and Friday each week starting at 9:15 a.m.
Practicing physical strength and flexibility can be particularly helpful to aging adults who live alone or want to age independently in their homes. But the class isn’t all about working out – the group laughed, chatted and (allegedly) gossiped between repetitions.
“Not only does it give them something to look forward to, but it helps them with the ability to move easier and it helps ease some of their pains,” Jones said. “Just the interaction with other people, it gives them hope.”