Gerontology experts weigh in on how to make the most of quarantine when you don't have work to distract you.

By Patricia Doherty
April 15, 2020
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As we anticipate at least another month of social distancing and sheltering in place, Travel + Leisure considered what this means for retirees. The group, of course, includes active retirees who were looking forward to traveling, visiting family around the country, and checking off bucket list experiences. There are also retirees who spend most of their time close to home, having coffee with neighbors and enjoying visits from grandchildren, friends, and relatives. Their lives and daily activities have changed, perhaps even more than for those whose office work is now at home filling days with emails, texts, phone calls, and social media — providing at least a temporary distraction from current events. We spoke to professionals in the field of gerontology for their thoughts and advice for retirees.

“Staying at home for lengthy periods of time creates stress for everyone, however, older adults, who have been told they’re at greater risk for complications associated with the virus, are particularly impacted,” Dr. Cynthia Cotter PhD, a San Diego-based specialist in geriatric psychology, told T+L. “Their problems differ depending upon circumstances, including age, medical issues, cognitive ability, living situation, and degree of support from family and friends.”

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Dr. Jennifer Ailshire PhD, director of the PhD Program in Gerontology at USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, offered some practical advice, recognizing the difficulty in providing "one-size-fits-all" tips. "My advice for everyone would be to focus on maintaining three types of activity: physical movement, cognitively stimulating activities, and social activities," she said. "Strategies will vary depending on the person and their environment."

Both professionals recommend taking a walk each day if possible, whether outdoors or even walking in place indoors. “It’s important to move every day, however that can be accomplished,” Dr. Ailshire said. “And just as we must exercise our bodies each day, so too must we exercise our minds. This is a great opportunity for people who have extra time to learn a second or third language or how to play an instrument that’s been sitting around for years or to catch up on reading. For those with access to the internet, there are many options for online learning.”

“Although it has been referred to as social distancing,” Dr. Ailshire continued, “It would be more accurate to say we are physically distancing. It’s important to maintain social closeness while doing this. So we should be getting on the phone or the computer to check on others.”

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"It’s important for all of us, but particularly for older adults, to engage in self-care during this time," Dr. Cotter said. "Eating properly and getting enough sleep are critical. And there will be times when it’s best to just relax and indulge in pleasurable activities like watching TV shows, doing puzzles, or listening to music."

We’ve incorporated the advice of these professionals in this list of ideas for retirees. So much interesting and engaging content is available that we suspect our readers will be visiting many of these sites long after our sheltering at home time has ended.

Move, Stretch, Exercise

Both experts emphasized the need for physical activity, even if you must stay indoors. Try an online yoga, exercise, or dance class. Dance like nobody’s watching!

Learn Something New

Take a class or just enjoy watching one while you learn about cooking, gardening, music, guitar, or other interests. Take a course on happiness from Yale University. Visit a museum on a virtual tour of some of the world’s finest.

Armchair Travel

Visit Chicago, St. Lucia, New York City, the Great Barrier Reef, national parks, or the White House without leaving your chair. Plan a future trip or just enjoy seeing new places. Enjoy a virtual visit to beaches around the world or peek through hotel windows for a view of what’s outside.

Nutrition, Regular Meals, Fresh Foods

Maintain your regular meal schedule and routine, psychologists and medical doctors all advise. If you need some inspiration to prepare a healthful meal, check advice from celebrity chefs.

Reach Out, Keep in Touch

Write letters to friends or find a pen pal who would love to hear from you. If you can’t think of what to say, you might want to borrow one of these quotes. Call or try FaceTime to chat with friends and family.

Look for Some Humor

“Laughter is the best medicine,” said Milton Berle (who you probably know if you’re retired). What can bring a smile to your face faster than adorable animals? Goats, koalas, puppies, and elephants are fun, and some clever humans are entertaining as well.

Use Music to Uplift Your Mood

Relax and enjoy music. Whether you love opera, Broadway show tunes, popular music, or another genre, you can find what you want or learn about a new favorite.