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For seniors, virtual classes can ease loneliness and stimulate the mind during pandemic

Cindi Hausheer is staying calm and keeping busy during the lockdown with Mindfulness Meditation, an online Zoom class.

Every Monday from 11 a.m. to noon the Laguna Woods Village resident participates in Lois Rubin’s class, which focuses on decreasing stress and anxiety, increasing calmness, boosting the immune system, managing pain and promoting happiness and wellness.

Rubin, founder and director of The Stress Control Center, has been a stress and pain management specialist for more than 40 years in Orange County.

Hausheer, 71, said the class, which she has taken since September, has “changed my life.”

“I have been an insomniac since high school and now I have been able to get better sleep and am not yawning all day long,” she said. “I have my energy back and feel calmer. My friends who have known me for a long time see a difference.”

When she feels nervous or anxious — not an uncommon occurrence in this COVID-19 world — she takes a deep breath several times to calm down, she said.



In the Mindfulness Meditation class, participants begin by going into a 10-minute meditative period where they focus on breathing, calming the mind and brushing away errant thoughts. This is followed by a group discussion of the participants’ thoughts and reactions to the meditation. Before the end of the class, they meditate again.

David S. Cohen, who is semi-retired after spending 31 years in the pharmaceutical industry, said the class has become a necessity while he is shuttered at home.

“Well, if I resided in a cabin, I’d have a fever,” Cohen said. “I have many friends in the Village, yet tension and loneliness have entered my life where, prior, I rarely experienced these.

“When these emotions are rising, I sit down in a quiet spot and I meditate, focusing on my breathing,” he said.

The Mindfulness Meditation Zoom class has a few openings; contact Rubin at

A new adventure without leaving home

With personal connections harder to come by, taking a virtual class or two is the next best thing to being there. Residents can learn new languages, take virtual museum and zoo tours, art classes or even anthropology.

Older adults should continue to find new challenges, said Susan McInerney, a licensed clinical social worker who manages the Social Services Department in Laguna Woods Village.

“Even before we went into lockdown, older adults were at increased risk for loneliness and social isolation because they are more likely to face factors such as living alone, the loss of family or friends and comorbid medical conditions including chronic medical conditions, hearing and vision loss,” McInerney said.

Learning new skills through virtual classes can help to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression and help improve one’s mood and feelings of well-being, she said.

Studies have shown that when older adults learn a new language or technology, it strengthens the connection within the brain and helps to prevent memory loss, she added.

Exercise is also beneficial in warding off depression. It promotes changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being, McInerney said. It also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in the brain that energize your spirits and make you feel good.

Emeritus Courses a Hit

Joan and Thad Zaremba, part-time Village residents, say that virtual classes through the Saddleback College Emeritus Institute have helped provide structure and mental stimulation during the pandemic.

Joan Zaremba takes an intermediate chair exercise class, which includes a variety of aerobics, stretches and strength training, which gets her up and moving, followed by two film as literature classes.

“Since the movies are assigned to see on our own, we have our movies scheduled for our evening entertainment,” she said. “Then we always discuss them, as we rarely have the same opinions,” she said.

Her husband, Thad, who hosts a Village radio show, takes a history class on the Cold War through Saddleback Emeritus. He said he finds his teacher, who was born in Romania and experienced much of the history first hand, “extremely knowledgeable.”

“We both enjoy the opportunity to learn during this time of restricted mobility,” he said. “We are now back in Michigan and it is nice as we are still able to finish the term.”

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Learning a language

Janna Gaston, another fan of virtual classes, is taking her mind to new places.

She immerses herself in virtual French classes to make it easier to connect with her daughter, Stefanie, granddaughter, Lily, and son-in-law, Florian, who live in Toulouse, France.

While visiting last July, Gaston was challenged. She was alone eight hours a day with Lily, now 5, while her mom and dad were at work.

In the mornings, Lily and her Nana typically walked to the family’s favorite boulangerie down the street for Lily’s pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) and jus l’orange.

One day, the boulangerie was closed. Gaston discussed the situation with Lily, who said, “No problem, I know another one.”

Gaston asked Lily if she knew how to get there. Again, Lily said, “no problem.”

So, there was Gaston following the young child through unfamiliar streets to la pâtisserie. Lily eventually led them to another family favorite where she ordered croissants and chocolate ice cream for good measure.

“My job as Nana was to have fun and a ready supply of Euros,” Gaston said.

When she returned from France, Gaston figured she had better learn some French, and in September started in-person classes at the Alliance Français in Newport.

However, due to the pandemic, the Alliance Français began to offer only Zoom classes, and she dropped out. This summer, however, Gaston has been working weekly one-on-one on Zoom with a tutor, a native speaker from France who she found on Craigslist.

“During the pandemic, I’m keeping my brain cells active, and then eventually next year, I will be able to order croissants for Lily and probably have an easier time with purchases at their local farmers market,” she said. “Lily is one tough cookie when it comes to my French word pronunciations.”





Source: Orange County Register

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