Coronavirus causes elderly to make the happy move to assisted living

“I used to go out, see people, have fun, go to movies, shows, musical evenings, and suddenly there is nothing and I am stuck between four walls.”

 (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
About a week ago, Aviva Schudler, 71, moved into an assisted living facility. “I decided not to go through another lockdown alone,” she said. “I was looking to move quickly before there was another lockdown.
“The decision was made lickety-split. Within two weeks of the decision being made, I was already here.”
Before making the move to the Until 120 assisted living facility in Rishon Lezion, Schudler, a widow, a mother of two and grandmother of four, lived in Ashdod. Her children do not live in the city. “Since the coronavirus started, I have not been busy with anything,” she said. “On weekdays in Ashdod there are a lot of things for retirees to do. I am also a retiree of the municipality, so there are a lot of activities.
“I used to go out, see people, have fun, go to movies, shows, musical evenings, and suddenly there is nothing and I am stuck between four walls.”
How did you handle it?
“I had a terrible feeling. One day I got upset and said, ‘I’m going to an assisted living facility.’ I had never thought about it before. I told my kids about it, and they were in favor. We started looking for a place. When I entered the current facility, I sat down and said: ‘I want to be here.’ I did a trial week and was the happiest person. I really like people, and here I have found a lot of people I can talk to. There is also a swimming pool, non-stop activities, shows... Of course, all the classes and activities are held in capsules, everyone keeps their distance, always with masks. They also do coronavirus tests.”
It wasn’t difficult to leave your familiar surroundings in Ashdod?
“It was very difficult, but everyone encouraged me. I was in such despair that I had to do something with myself. The two lockdowns I went through were very hard for me. I could not see friends, the grandchildren. I saw the children very rarely because they were scared of infecting me. Being alone for eight months is not easy. The helplessness broke me. Luckily, I had hospital treatments I had to go through, so at least I saw people. It’s not easy to leave the city, the friends, the house I love, but I don’t think about it. Already in the first week here, when I spoke to my friends on the phone, they said to me: ‘We haven’t heard your voice like this for months.’ I used to be depressed and now the joy of life has suddenly returned to me.”
SCHUDLER IS not the only one: Quite a few elderly people who were affected by the consequences of the coronavirus and were subjected to continuous social isolation decided to leave their homes and move to assisted living facilities.
“The coronavirus left me lonely at home,” said Yehudit Schnitzer, 78, a widow, mother of three and grandmother of five, who moved to the Mediterranean Towers in Ganei Tikva three weeks ago.
“I was afraid to leave the house. There are many people around who aren’t careful, do not go out with masks. I felt imprisoned, I had no one to talk to, nowhere to go. When the coronavirus broke out, I was very worried about my friend who is here in the Mediterranean Towers.
“The first rumors were that the main surge of the coronavirus was in geriatric institutions. I called her on the phone, and it turned out that life was continuing almost as usual. There are performances in the courtyard, classes held in capsules. My friend went on with her life while I lived in solitude.”
This led you to consider moving?
“I said I would come and see. It is an amazing place, so beautiful, and it has everything. I was afraid at first that I would not be integrated, that maybe it is good for my friend but not good for me, but I am euphoric.”
How did your children react to the idea?
“At first they were horrified by the idea. I told them I was trying it out, that here it’s safer than in my surroundings. I also explained to them that as much as I love them and my grandchildren, I need daily contact with people my age. Eventually, they were convinced. The children live in the area; I didn’t go too far away.”
Schnitzer, a former high school teacher, left a three-story house for a three-room apartment.
“In the meantime, I am in a guest apartment, and I will move to the permanent apartment in about two weeks,” she said. “Now I am getting organized and buying furniture online. Yes, I left a big house, but three floors had already become a burden. I had no emotional problem leaving my house. I found a very nice apartment here, almost a garden apartment, and I am moving my plants here with me.”
“I FELT stuck between four walls because of the coronavirus,” said Erika Schatz, 80, who moved to Ahuzat Rishonim in Rishon Lezion at the end of March. Schatz, an actress, divorcee, mother of two and grandmother of four, had previously lived in Rehovot. “I couldn’t even go out and buy my medicine,” she said. “The kids were at work, so I had to order over the phone. Whenever I had to go out, I was scared. These words always echoed inside me: ‘risk group, risk group.’ Loneliness finished me.”
The coronavirus changed Schatz’s life beyond recognition. “As an actress, I used to go to [costume] measurements, auditions, commercials,” she said. “I was also a member of a community theater group in Rehovot. We performed all over the country and suddenly everything was interrupted. I could not see the children living in Ramat Aviv, because they did not want to come in case, God forbid, they would infect me, and I was also afraid about them coming.”
This is where the decision to move came from?
“I realized that in assisted living, everything could be 100% different from what is happening now with the coronavirus, that I could go back to living again. I made the decision very quickly. Within three days, I found someone to replace me in the apartment where I lived. People think that assisted living is a nursing home, but it’s not a nursing home. I cannot describe to you just how satisfied I am with the decision I made. I feel like I live in a hotel. While all the older people couldn’t leave their house, I continued a normal and even easier life.”
You weren’t afraid of getting infected?
“I knew people were very protected here. The day I arrived, I went into quarantine for two weeks. During those two weeks, they did everything for me, collected the garbage, so I wouldn’t leave the room. They brought me food, came four times each day to check if I was okay or if I needed anything.”
How did the coronavirus affect your life in assisted living?
“In the dining room, if four or five people used to sit around the table, now only two people sit. Every week, coronavirus tests are done for all the workers, and once a month the tenants do coronavirus tests.”
CORONA ALSO led Amir Halevy, 84, to a similar decision and since last April he has lived in the Lev Rehovot facility. Prior to that, Halevy, who had retired from Egged and was a widower, father of two and has two granddaughters, lived in his house in Rehovot. “I came to the facility when the coronavirus started to break out,” he said.
“The main impact of the coronavirus was the disconnect from the social environment I had. I used to hang out with Egged retiree friends and also those who are still Egged employees. I used to have lunch with them, be with them at the club. Also, I would meet with friends in a cafe or just in the mall. Everything was canceled, and the main communication became by telephone. It created a void in each day. I found myself alone in a big house, without company. Even the cat I had died.”
How did you make the decision to move to assisted living?
“My son said, ‘Let’s hear about it, there are things like that.’ I went with my son to see the place; we liked it. I moved from a 170-square-meter house to a spacious two-room apartment. The move also included a thorough cleaning out of all sorts of things that had traveled with me from place to place. I now have cultural and social activities that I did not have because of the coronavirus. Today, I have them just an elevator away.”
Did you find new friends?
“Yes. There are also some who have been here longer than I have, who have even ‘adopted’ me... I also go to all kinds of events, for example a Bible class. I was never into it but now it interests me. I also go to the movies once or twice a week, also to sing in public. While friends my age can’t go to activities and shows, I make the most of the offerings here.”
Last month, the Perdos – Charlotte, 81, and Nissim, 91 – also moved to the Lev Rehovot facility. “We moved mainly because of the feeling of loneliness,” they say.
“This loneliness was hard for us. We used to be outside every morning at the beach. We were members of the Society for the Protection of Nature, every week we went on trips. [Our] two children live on a kibbutz, so we could not see them every day” once COVID-19 broke out “and the grandchildren were not allowed to come either... We were closed up all day at home and I was looking for ways to get out. Then the idea of assisted living came up.”
It wasn’t hard for you to leave your home?
“Here it’s safer than anywhere else. The whole staff takes a coronavirus check once a week, the tenants do it every two weeks, and everyone is very careful about masks. [We] miss the sea, but you can’t have everything.” 
Translated by Tzvi Joffre