While the pandemic has taken its toll globally, senior citizens are some of the hardest hit. Social isolation measures and fear of catching the virus have forced them inside, removing social contact with families and friends.
82-year-old Cees de Leeuw felt the impact hard. His wife of 57-years, Nellie, passed away two years ago. He’s experienced the deaths of his brother, cousins, neighbours, and friends in just the past few years.
“And then came Corona,” he told AD. “Dangerous for people my age. And I really don’t want to die yet.”
“I actually need home care, but I cancelled it. That organization did not have any protection for their personnel. They approached me unprotected and it frightened me. I am diabetic and because of my age, I belong to the risk group. Irresponsible.”
The circumstances meant that his three children and three grandchildren could no longer visit.
“Nobody came by for weeks and I had nowhere to go, no more food in the nursing home. I now cook my own food, and it works better one day than the other.”
The King’s speech
King Willem-Alexander made a moving address to the nation early in the pandemic addressing the ‘loneliness virus.’
“We cannot stop the coronavirus. What we can do is stop the loneliness virus! Let’s make sure together that nobody feels abandoned,” said the King during his speech.
The speech prompted De Leeuw to write to the King about how the loneliness virus works in practice. He found the address on Google.
“April 22 the letter went to the mail, May 14 I received a neat answer from his general secretary of the king and queen.”
Wekenlang kwam er door het coronavirus niemand over de vloer bij Cees de Leeuw
— AD.nl (@ADnl) June 3, 2020
A letter from the King
De Leeuw said that there was a level of understanding in the letter, and encouraging words, despite the official tone.
“Of course the king cannot answer everything himself. But I’m sure the king has read my letter. A beautiful letter and a boost today.”
Summer brings darkness
But things are likely to get worse for the elderly. As temperatures heat up, at-risk elderly must stay indoors — it’s estimated that 400 extra people died during July’s record-breaking heatwave last year, the majority elderly.
“Then I have to stay inside again with the shutters closed to keep it a little cool in the house, and then you sit on your own in the dark. Then there are no sports on television. No football, cycling or tennis. And the kids go on vacation.”
Research shows that hundreds of thousands of elderly people don’t look forward to the summer. One-third expect negative feelings like loneliness and gloom, found the KBO-PCOB Association for the Elderly. This year, loneliness will be compounded by social distancing, and not being able to go away on holiday.
There are methods in place to relieve loneliness for elderly people in the Netherlands. Belmaatjes or ‘telephone friends’ can be paired up for calls during the week. Cees benefits from a penpal through KBO-PCOB who he writes to every week. Cees also has his bird, Petro.