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Book club helps seniors connect, combat isolation during coronavirus pandemic

Book club helps seniors connect, combat isolation during coronavirus pandemic
Posted at 3:00 PM, Nov 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-09 15:00:25-05

CLEVELAND — A book club geared towards senior citizens is helping older Ohioans feel less alone during the coronavirus pandemic.

Meet Ann Kuula. Like so many seniors this year, the coronavirus pandemic has left Kuula isolated — separated from family and friends through necessity.

Her birthday celebration consisted of her kids singing to her in her front yard.

“My oldest son Matt made his first cake and wrote ‘Sweet 16’ because, at age 79, 7 and 9 is sixteen,” Kuula said.

So when Kuula got the chance to take part in a pilot program book club for seniors, she couldn’t wait.

“When I got the book, I couldn’t put it down,” she said. “Keeping our mind busy!”

That could be crucial for older Americans amid the pandemic. According to a Washington Post report, doctors have reported increased falls, pulmonary infections, depression and sudden frailty in patients who had been stable for years.

“Human connection is a huge piece of what keeps us healthy,” said Ann Smith, executive director of Books @ Work.

Books @ Work isn't a typical book club.— they team up with professors who help facilitate the discussion, in this case, one from Kent State University. The idea came from the Literacy Cooperative, a Cleveland-based nonprofit.

They got in touch with seniors who wanted to take part through the Cleveland Department of Aging.

“But because most of the folks who participated in this program don’t have internet access, don’t have computers, we actually did this one by phone,” Smith said.

Group leaders hooked up a specific phone line that the seniors could call in to — and then, they let them talk. Their first book? "The Only Woman in the Room" by Heather Terrell— a historical novel about a brilliant female scientist only remembered for her beauty despite her many contributions to modern society.

“The fact that people were able to connect even over the phone, just as disembodied voices and yet they still opened up tremendously,” Smith said. “Some of them shared very personal experiences.”

Even from miles away, through the most basic of technology, books can bring people together.

“Meeting these people over the phone was so enriching,” Kuula said. “And that’s what older people need — socialization, reminiscing, and enrichment.”

Right now, the program is looking for funding to support more rounds of participants since the books were sent to the seniors free of charge.

This story was originally published by Homa Bash on WEWS in Cleveland.

Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering