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The New, Lonely Challenge City Seniors Face During COVID-19
By Michael Herzenberg
in: SPECTRUM NEWS NY1, New York on Apr. 02, 2020

NEW YORK - Clayton Patterson captured the Lower East Side on video and film for decades. He famously documented the Tompkins Square Park riots in 1988. He's been on Oprah, was featured by Anthony Bourdain and is the subject of the documentary film, "Captured."

He put himself at risk to get the shots he wanted whether it was art on stage or violence in street, but now he’s not taking any chances, cooped up in his apartment away from the coronavirus with his archives and his wife.

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“The isolation is difficult,” said Patterson. Like seniors all over the city, the couple is hunkered down in fear of catching the virus, but in a way they’re each alone. His wife, Elsa Rensaa has Alzheimer's Disease.

"Her condition is kind of like her slowly drifting her out to sea,” Patterson said, "It’s very punishing to see her disappear.”

He’s her caregiver, but up until two weeks ago he’d get breaks a few times a week when a volunteer would visit from the non-profit organization Henry Street Settlement. “She was a companion with Elsa. They can laugh and sing,” Patterson fondly remembers but, “the visits stopped.”

“We’re trying to support our volunteers supporting their clients,” Rachel Hughes, the Program Director for Henry Street Settlement’s Senior Companion Program.

Because her 100 volunteers and the 200 clients are all older than 55, the home visits have become phone calls for safety.

“It’s hard for them also to not be able to go and be there physically for their clients,” said Hughes.

“It’s horrible,” Fordham University Social Work Professor Carole Cox said about what seniors are going through.

“Across the world, I think they’re dealing with anxiety. They’re dealing with stress.”

The Coronavirus is particularly tough on seniors in New York City said Cox. According to the Census the five boroughs are home to more than 1.1 million people 65 and older. 32% of them live alone, that’s 350,000 seniors alone.

“Loneliness is a big problem to begin with among older people,” said Cox who specializes in Gerontology, “and this is only emphasizing the issues related to loneliness.”

“The thing with this kind of pressure, you don’t really notice it,” said Patterson. "It’s marching forward, head down marching forward.”

Patterson says his wife has become more agitated since the pandemic began even though she doesn’t know about it. He says the calls he gets three times a week from the Henry Street volunteers are nice, but just not the same as the in-house visits they replaced. He is now a 24/7 caregiver, alone.

“It would definitely be a relief if I could get some relief,” Patterson said.


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