(Kaiser Health News)Over the past month, Dr. Richard Besdine and his wife have been discussing whether to see family and friends indoors this fall and winter.
He thinks they should, so long as people have been taking strict precautions during the coronavirus pandemic.
She's not convinced it's safe, given the heightened risk of viral transmission in indoor spaces.
Both are well positioned to weigh in on the question. Besdine, 80, was the longtime director of the division of geriatrics and palliative medicine at Brown University's Alpert Medical School. His wife, Terrie Wetle, 73, also an aging specialist, was the founding dean of Brown's School of Public Health.
"We differ, but I respect her hesitancy, so we don't argue," Besdine said.
Older adults in all kinds of circumstances — those living alone and those who are partnered, those in good health and those who are not — are similarly deliberating what to do as days and nights turn chilly and coronavirus cases rise across the country.
Some are forming "bubbles" or "pods": small groups that agree on pandemic precautions and will see one another in person in the months ahead. (Other age groups are pursuing this "let's stay connected" strategy as well.) Still, others are planning to go it alone.
Judith Rosenmeier, 84, of Boston, a widow who has survived three bouts of breast cancer, doesn't intend to invite friends to her apartment or visit them in theirs.
"My oncologist said when all this started, 'You really have to stay home more than other people because the treatments you've had have destroyed a lot of your immune defenses,'" she said.
Since mid-March, Rosenmeier has been outside only three times: once, in September, to go to the eye doctor and twice since to walk with a few friends. After living in Denmark for most of her adult life, she doesn't have a lot of close contacts. Her son lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.
"There's a good chance I'll be alone on Thanksgiving and on Christmas, but I'll survive," she said.
A friend who lives nearby, Joan Doucette, 82, is determined to maintain in-person social contacts. With her husband, Harry Fisher, 84, she's formed a "pod" with two other couples in her nine-unit apartment building. All are members of Beacon Hill Village, an organization that provides various services to seniors aging in place. Doucette sees her pod almost every day.
"We're always running up and down the stairs or elevator and bringing each other cookies or soup," she said. "I don't think I would have survived this pandemic without that companionship."
About once a week, the couples have dinner together and "we don't wear masks," said Jerry Fielder, 74, who moved to Boston two years ago with his partner, Daniel, 73. But he said he feels safe because "we know where everyone goes and what they do: We're all on the same page. We go out for walks every day, all of us. Otherwise, we're very careful."
Eleanor Weiss, 86, and her husband are also members of the group. "I wear a mask, I socially distance myself, but I don't isolate myself," Weiss said. This winter, she said, she'll see "a few close friends" and three daughters who live in the Boston area.
One daughter is hosting Thanksgiving at her house, and everyone will get tested for the coronavirus beforehand. "We're all careful. We don't hug and kiss. We do the elbow thing," Weiss said.