Throughout the current coronavirus pandemic, certain concepts cement themselves in the public consciousness. Many can recite the physical distancing guidelines—stay six feet apart, wash hands routinely, remain inside—without hesitating. There also is an acute understanding that the elderly suffer much higher mortality rates than younger people who get sick. In addition to this higher mortality rate, there are also social and societal consequences to this pandemic. To learn more about how the pandemic affects the elderly, read on.
The most immediate aspect is how the coronavirus affects seniors’ health. While it’s true that nothing directly ties high mortality to being older, elderly individuals are more likely to experience one of many chronic conditions that increase mortality rates among those infected. Some examples of these conditions include diabetes, heart problems, chronic lung disease, and more. Some attribute this higher death rate to an overall decline in the immune system (often hastened by existing conditions). Thankfully, there are plenty of ways for businesses to help the elderly during the pandemic, meaning there are ways seniors can get what they need without undue risk of contracting the virus.
The pandemic also affects the elderly by increasing their sense of isolation. Seniors with small social circles because of their lack of mobility or another factor continue to reckon with further isolation as they practice physical distancing. Also, their unfamiliarity with technological means of staying connected either means they lose touch or experience less satisfaction connecting through their phone or computer than a younger person.
Their isolation may also feel more intense because of its forced nature—their fear of leaving their home doesn’t allow them to be comfortable as they remain inside. It’s as if a threat lies just outside their door, which scares many seniors as they take precautions; the dissonance of wanting to see friends and families yet fearing for their health overwhelms them.
Furthermore, the already present phenomenon of ageism affects seniors throughout this pandemic. Ageism is discrimination based on age and manifests in citizens’ disregard for seniors’ well-being when deciding how to handle the pandemic on a broad scale because they have fewer years to live. Some people advocate for states’ reopening because they discount the value of seniors’ lives who die from COVID-19, implicitly or explicitly indicating that younger people with longer to live should be able to return to their jobs.
A recent study assessed the content of 351 tweets regarding the elderly population and coronavirus, finding one-quarter contained derogatory comments toward the elderly. Seniors suffer from exposure to this hostile and dismissive culture online and elsewhere, compounding other coronavirus-related consequences.