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If the pandemic has left you feeling frail and helpless, here’s what you can do

Please write an article on what an elderly person can do to be less frail and helpless. I’m 87 and live alone with my 13-year-old mini schnauzer which I short walk every day, check my stocks and e-mails, cook, clean, garden and paint the ocean. I miss having friends and hanging my work in the gallery, which has been Covid-closed. Thank you. A.J.

Dear A.J.

Kudos to you for keeping up all of your activities including gardening and painting. What you are accomplishing without seeing your friends is quite extraordinary. Yet, indeed there is a missing piece.

I reminded about the importance of connection and helping one another by a piece in Forbes about the first sign of civilization. As the story goes, anthropologist Margaret Meade was asked by a student, What was the first sign of civilization in a culture? It wasn’t fish hooks or clay pots but a healed femur bone. She explained that in the animal kingdom if you break a leg you die. You aren’t able to escape predators or search for food or water. The healed femur bone was an indication that someone carried that person to safety, bound the wound and stayed with that person through recovery, rather than leaving to save their own life.

In-person connection is part of our DNA, our civilization; long-term videoconferencing can help but is no permanent substitute.

Let’s begin by attacking frailty. Several years ago, I had a conversation with the noted Stanford geriatrician Dr. Walter Bortz who commented that “disease is not the enemy of old age; it’s frailty and that is something we can do about.” Exercise is a remedy.

Walking is considered one of the best forms of exercise for older adults. Consider lengthening your short walk with your mini-schnauzer. If you feel comfortable, extend that walk slowly working up to 30 minutes a day. Just walking outdoors for a longer period of time can elevate mood, increase muscle strength, improve cardiovascular functioning and more.

Now let’s talk about that missing piece: the human connection. Begin with contacting local resources such as your senior center, church or synagogue. Most have an outreach service to older adults.

A number of organizations focus on reaching those living alone, particularly during the pandemic. Here are several:

Listos California: This is sponsored by the state of California as a safety outreach campaign to counter social distancing for individuals at risk from the pandemic as well as natural disasters. Those who make outreach telephone calls, named “bridgers,” connect on a personal level with a message that you are not alone. They are eager to have caring conversations about wisdom, happy as well as troubled times, memories and more too. See

KPFK Goldentalk Senior Chat Line: This is a volunteered-based national senior chat line for adults age 60 and older. It helps older adults facing social isolation to have warm conversations as well as providing referrals in case of a crisis. One can call daily. Their hours are 11:00 am to 11:00 pm PST. Call 888-604-6533.

USC Trojan Connections: Sponsored by the USC Emeriti Center, this is a random phone matching system that pairs an older adult with USC faculty, staff, alumni or friend. Most volunteers are students. Janette Brown, Assistant Vice Provost of the Center says, “It’s exciting to have this run almost entirely by college students who are serving older adults.” She adds, “the matching system is totally random; the only theme that runs through it is goodwill.” The students want to help and end up being helped as well. This is an opportunity for an exchange, some reciprocity where both parties gain from the experience. Many students plan to meet their older individual after the pandemic is over. Go to or call 231-740-7122.

Eldera: Being a mentor is one way to break from social isolation. Eldera is a global virtual village where generations come together to connect, learn, have fun and share wisdom. Eldera mentors connect with children who want to practice conversation skills, read a story or be read to or just talk about their days, often giving their parents a break. Both parties gain from the connection. Go to

A.J., Thank you for your important question. I hope your art gallery will soon open. In the meantime, stay safe and well…and enjoy the extended walk with your mini schnauzer.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on


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