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Experts say it may be difficult for some older adults to adjust from 2 years of COVID-19 isolation.
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  • Experts say some seniors may have difficulties adjusting to a post-COVID world after 2 years of isolation.
  • Many older adults are still fearful of the disease and hesitant to jump too quickly back into social life.
  • Others lament the loss of 2 precious years near the end of their lives.
  • Experts say seniors should try to slowly reemerge, perhaps by attending small gatherings at first.

Glimpses of life after the COVID-19 pandemic are coming into view.

New COVID-19 cases as well as hospitalizations and deaths are on the decline.

Mask mandates are also ending at businesses, entertainment venues, and, in some cases, school classrooms.

The news does put some people in a quandary about what to do in terms of mask wearing, attending indoor events, and seeing friends again.

These questions can be particularly acute when it comes to the emotional well-being of adults 65 years and older, who tend to be at risk of experiencing severe illness more often.

Many have spent the past 2 years at home and still fear the potential effects of the coronavirus because they know someone who was hospitalized for COVID-19 or who died from the disease.

“As with all transitions, moving into a post-pandemic lifestyle will take some time to adapt,” Dr. Michael G. Wetter, PsyD, FAPA, a diplomat and fellow for the American Psychotherapy Association, told Healthline.

“If people feel more comfortable wearing masks even when there is no mandate, they should feel free to do so until they feel comfortable in not wearing one,” Wetter said.

A recent story from Kaiser Health News detailed the anxiety, depression, and other emotions felt by older adults the past 2 years.

Now, they face the decision whether to continue to play it safe or to throw a little caution to the wind and try to enjoy the years they have remaining.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, many older adults hunkered down and used a lifetime of coping skills to get through this,” Bonnie Olsen, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, told Kaiser Health News. “Now, as people face this current surge, it’s as if their well of emotional reserves is being depleted.”

Olsen recommends that younger adults watch for signs older adults are withdrawing or shutting down emotionally.

“When people start to avoid being in touch, then I become more worried,” she said.

Although fear is a major driving force, many older adults have felt a wide range of emotions.

They may have felt anger that the pandemic lasted so long, disappointment in missing events such as a grandchild’s birthday, loneliness from social isolation, or sadness for the wasted time they can never get back.

“It feels like 2 years have just been chopped out of our lives and everything was on hold,” said Carol, 63, who just returned from a trip to California with her mother to visit family.

“My mom is 91 now and her mobility is less,” Carol told Healthline. “Everyone she knows has come out of lockdown more diminished. There is no point waiting.”

Many are willing to venture out again while keeping “the new normal” in mind.

Joyce, 69, a retired professor and current writer of Medieval mystery books, is looking for a balance.

“While I’d like to get out and have fun, I’m not willing to take too much of a risk that I’ll get COVID,” she told Healthline. “Maybe it’s because I’m OK in solitude if there are breaks from it now and then.”

“I am a writer, and writing is a solitary occupation. When I was working, I longed for solitude. The pandemic has been too much solitude, and I’d like a better balance between alone-time and seeing people. Still, as warmer weather comes again and the Omicron surge ends, I think I’ll find that balance,” Joyce said.

Alice, 85, a retired visual resources librarian and current photographer and writer, expects to remain cautious.

“I’ll continue to meet vaccinated friends outdoors, weather permitting,” she told Healthline. “I’m not ready to go to the movies or other indoor activities where there will be many unmasked people. I go grocery shopping, but only when the stores are not busy.”

“I did do one risky [to me] thing last summer,” she said. “I attended a high school reunion in Maryland with a small group, all vaccinated. We had our meeting room and outside of that space, I wore my mask, although no one else in the area did so.”

The new normal could well include assessing the risk of any activity before engaging — weighing the benefits of social interaction against the chance of developing COVID-19.

Arlene, 64, a career transition services manager, is considering restarting life as the pandemic threat seems less prominent.

“Keeping informed and aware of trends with the virus is important to me,” she told Healthline. “After the 2-year pause with the pandemic, mingling and socializing will be an effort that I anticipate will have starts and stops. I am optimistic, but wary. I don’t want to experience the symptoms of the virus, but beginning a new chapter is exciting.”

She also understands the importance of caution because she routinely sees her mother, who is 87.

Some experts believe we are moving toward COVID-19 changing from a pandemic to an endemic.

The flu is considered endemic. This means it is always present in a group or area but not always at high levels. We have learned how to live with the flu.

Right now, COVID-19 remains a pandemic because cases haven’t yet stabilized into predictable patterns. But we do have tools that can help us manage — vaccines and antiviral medications.

Experts note that when there is a severe outbreak, we can go back to physical distancing, masks, and getting tested at the first sign of illness.

That is why Raj, 73, a scientist in a research laboratory, doesn’t wear a mask anymore.

“I wore a mask for 2 years,” he told Healthline. “I only wear it if I am in an area that puts me at high risk. If I do get it, I will most likely get a mild case and there are medications to help reduce symptoms. I am careful, but not paranoid. I am also not willing to give up things I enjoy any longer.”

“This is a time where trust needs to be developed. Trust in the safety of actions, behaviors, and medical treatments,” said Wetter. “I believe it’s best for people to begin to introduce socialization slowly, at a pace with which they feel comfortable.”

“So, maybe instead of going to a crowded place like a theme park or concert venue, they start with going to a local restaurant or even movie theater,” he said.

Wetter says you can use steps such as treatment for anxiety disorder.

“Plan for small, enjoyable activities with increasing frequency,” said Wetter. “It’s sometimes helpful to remember that adjusting to pandemic life took a bit of time. Adjusting to post-pandemic life will also take a bit of time, but with some patience and persistence, your mind and body will remember and adapt.”