Life Style

Lockdown gives 86-year-old grandmother an online audience

LONDON • One morning in March, not long after the coronavirus sent her country into lockdown and brought an abrupt end to life as she had known it, Mrs Hazell Jacobs, 86, awoke in her south London home ready to start something new.

For weeks, Mrs Jacobs, a widow living alone, had ventured no farther than her garden. Benevolent neighbours brought her groceries and she had regular phone check-ins from her daughters and grandchildren, but a minor stroke weeks earlier had sent her into lockdown before most, and a chronic eye condition was eroding her sight.

No matter. She opened a closet and began pulling out a collection of scarves – hundreds of them, gathered over decades of travels around the world.

There were countless memories stitched into their hems, each silky expanse a story waiting to be told.

Mrs Jacobs sat down and began to write what soon became Scarf Aid, a blog Mrs Jacobs has faithfully maintained since March 26.

From the starting point of a charity shop shawl or vintage Hermes wrapper, each entry weaves memoir, essay, history and travelogue in the unself-conscious style of early Internet writing, while radiating the Keep Calm And Carry On energy of a decidedly British pep talk.

The posts dance across nearly 90 years of memories: her childhood in Brechin, Scotland, stints living in Hong Kong and California during her husband's career as a land surveyor, her travels around the world and outings closer to home.

Mrs Jacobs is a doer by nature – she gardens and is teaching herself Italian. She is also the type to seek out those in need of her help.

For several years, she was a suicide hotline volunteer. She knew that many of her readers were older adults, many without the advantages of relative good health and a supportive local network. Even some of her closest friends were struggling under the weight of isolation.

"I'm used to supporting others," she said. "So, I thought, that'll be my role, to cheer people up," noting that a lot her friends have felt down.

For many older people around the world, the pandemic has cast a shadow over their lives. Visits with friends and family are distanced, if they can happen at all. A trip to the doctor or grocery store can feel like a threat. Fatality rates for Covid-19 patients over the age of 70 are far higher than those of younger patients. To protect themselves, a population that already grappled disproportionately with loneliness has had to retreat even further into isolation, which can lead to depression and worse health outcomes.

"We have underestimated the importance of connectedness," said Dr John Rowe, a professor of health policy and ageing at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

Dr Rowe made the observation on Sept 17, during an online panel on ageing and the pandemic organised by the Stanford Centre on Longevity.

The prevalence of loneliness among older adults, particularly in high-income countries such as the United States and Britain, was a problem before the health crisis and has only worsened since.

In one survey of US adults aged 50 and older, 69 per cent of respondents said they were self-isolating or quarantined as a result of the virus, according to the American Association of Retired Persons. Nearly haRead More – Source