At 79 years old, Mercedes Sánchez was admitted to the Alcalá de Henares hospital with COVID-19 for nine days. It was at the beginning of the pandemic. After a long recovery, she began to go out for a walk, since “the gym classes” she attended at the day center next to her house were suspended. A few months later, on her instructor’s own initiative, every Monday she received a video via WhatsApp to exercise on her own. A way to help the elderly to activate the body (and also the mind) during the tedious months of confinement; even more so this spring, when we were all beginning to relate, but they were still afraid.
The elderly centers were the first to close – the order was given urgently a week before the state of alarm was decreed – and also the last to open, despite the fact that users by age have been vaccinated for a long time. Some may want to make up their appointments with sports and painting, go “to computers” or even leave after eating; for others the fears keep looming. Catalonia, Andalusia, Cantabria, the Balearic Islands and Galicia took the lead in Spain; now Madrid joins after the protest of groups of older people, organized in sit-ins, who demanded that it was time to restart the service to start rebuilding their routine.
“About two months ago the teacher began to teach in the park, outdoors. Many signed up, but not me, I do it at home when I feel like it,” explains Mercedes. She attended the Municipal Center for the Elderly ‘Los Pinos’ in Alcalá. “Now he gives them in the garden, Tuesday and Thursday morning. But there is still no one inside. It is that now they are not going to give new activities, not until the new course begins,” he clarifies, since many of the partners tend to take advantage of the summer to return to their hometowns and escape the heat of the capital.
“People are still afraid. We were at least 35 alone in this center, but now … Before, many used to gather here, to play cards or read in the library,” says the member, delving into the fact that the coup of the pandemic has been hard on them. “There was a lot of activity, but in this neighborhood the virus has punished us a lot. The president even died of COVID in March.” In fact, she estimates that, even with the order to open, she does not believe that they will have too much activity at the moment: “My colleagues think the same, until this is not seen more clearly, they will not come. We are just signing up for the next season. ” Of course, he admits to having missed the center. “It is not the same, when you go you talk to people, you spend the time that you are there, it forces you more to do it.”
Julio has also approached the facilities, eager to play cards and have a drink. What was your surprise when you saw the fence thrown. “I was this morning in the center of the Angel Park and it was also closed. There were a couple of women doing gymnastics and when I went to pass, I could not” he complained. “I have missed it, among other things, because in any other place coffee is worth more to you and in the end you save equal to two euros a day. Of course, we pensioners do not have enough,” he argued at the gates of the center. “I would come around eleven o’clock or after lunch, I would play a game, some days you win coffee and others you lose it. Being able to talk to people … But I don’t know when they will open” he says, a little hopeless as he begins to undo his steps of back home, with the loaf of bread in the bag.
Despite the reopening ordered by the Community of Madrid, not all the centers are operational at the moment. Those who depend on regional ownership have done so since Monday, June 21. However, the City Council keeps the 90 that it directly manages closed. According to a spokeswoman for the council, it is the districts that must open each center once it has been adapted to the protocol sent by the area of Families, Equality and Social Welfare. Now they are only available “for individual services of podiatry, hairdressing, occupational and psychological therapy,” they specify from the City Council.
New sit-ins for seniors
The Commission of Users of Centers for the Elderly, created to demand the reopening of these facilities, denounced the inoperability of the municipal centers of the capital. On Thursday 24 there will be sittings in protest at the doors of several of them.
“I like to come because you get together with people and it is like therapy. I have missed it during confinement,” says Petra Casasola, at the entrance to a day center in Getafe. As in Alcalá, they offered classes in the park in front of the building, but she did not attend because of an operation. “I also go to other activities in another center around here, such as ‘activate your life’ or ‘activate your mind,'” she says, adding with a laugh that she is not only an assistant, but has been a volunteer for a long time. “I’ve been here at least 20 years.”
Manuel joins the conversation, who admits that he needs a lot from the center, not just for entertainment. “We come many times to eat, when we can. We are getting by. We are older and we cannot stand for long in the kitchen, taking charge,” he says. They come there to recover their circles and return little by little but determined to enjoy a space that was so hostile for practically a year and a half.