There’s plenty to be disturbed about during the seemingly-endless coronavirus pandemic – a tanking economy, a disrupted school year, an uncertain future, just to name three. But one of the most insidious side effects of the ongoing health crisis is how it’s making our most vulnerable citizens feel. This recent article from the HealthDay website, written by reporter Amy Norton, says that America’s response to COVID-19 is making many seniors feel as if they don’t matter – in short, that they’re expendable.
Seniors Feel Expendable When the System Ignores Their Needs
“From the start of the coronavirus pandemic,” Norton writes, “it’s been clear that older adults are especially vulnerable to serious illness. Now, experts are concerned that older Americans are falling victim to ageism and messages that they are ‘expendable’ amid the crisis.” She cites work done by psychology professor Gordon Flett of Toronto’s York University who says that the toll exacted by the pandemic on older people around the world reads like a horror story.
The worst examples, according to the HealthDay article, have occurred in countries where the virus swept through nursing homes which were ill-equipped to handle the crisis safely. “Some of the worst stories, Flett noted, have included certain care homes in Spain where staff abandoned residents, leaving the military to find some dead in their beds; and hospitals in Lima, Peru, that stopped admitting older patients, partly because they are less likely to survive than younger people.” In these examples the message that seniors don’t matter has been unmistakably and tragically clear.
Seniors Feel Expendable When the Economy Takes Precedence Over Safety
However, says reporter Norton, while the message here in the U.S. may be more subtle, the underlying assumption has been obvious from the start back in March. The twin themes of the pandemic, according to HealthDay are, first, that “only” seniors die from the coronavirus; and, second, that restarting the economy is the number one priority. The article cites one prominent example, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who (the article reports) “claimed ‘lots of grandparents’ would be willing to ‘take a chance’ on their survival if it kept the U.S. economy running.”
York University’s Professor Flett says messages like that clearly tell seniors that they are expendable. That realization prompted Flett to compile current research on what it means to “matter.” This research was recently published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction.
Seniors Feel Expendable When They Feel They Don’t Matter
“It may be no surprise that human beings have a need to matter,” says HealthDay – “to the people in their lives and to society.” Indeed, as Flett’s research clearly showed, believing you are valued is critical. “This feeling of mattering can be a buffer against stress and a source of resilience,” Flett told HealthDay. The research demonstrated that, when older people believe they matter to someone else, they have lower odds of depression and loneliness and a better sense of physical well-being. They also make better personal choices. “When people feel important, Flett noted, they may be motivated to take better care of their physical health.”
Both young people and seniors are especially susceptible to the message that they don’t matter, says the article. In Flett’s words, “They really need the reassurance that they’re important.” But right now, the focus is on seniors and the subtle (and not so subtle) messages being sent by society during the pandemic. “The current climate may send older adults the opposite message,” according to University of Utah geriatrician Dr. Timothy Farrell. For example, when states rush to reopen, or people ignore social distancing guidelines and refuse to wear masks, the message to seniors is painfully clear.
Seniors Feel Expendable When Friends and Family Don’t Step Up
York University’s Professor Flett suggests that now is the time for friends and family to step up on behalf of the seniors in their lives. “At a time when older adults face the risk of a potentially fatal disease – and are being cut off from their normal interactions and routines – it’s even more important that they get the message they are valued,” he told HealthDay. The article concludes with the advice to family, friends and neighbors to simply reach out.
“Even small gestures go a long way,” Flett said. “It can just be you calling and saying, ‘Hey, I was thinking of you,’ or ‘I miss seeing you.’” The article also says that others may be feeling expendable during the pandemic as well, besides seniors. “Essential workers, from health care professionals to grocery store employees, are at risk, too – especially if they feel they have not been given adequate protection and support.” As Professor Flett urges, “We have to be much more proactive in showing people that they matter.”
Announcing Seminars with a Choice: In-Person Events Return, Webinars Also Available
For several months our popular LifePlanning Seminars with Rajiv Nagaich have been offered online only. But now as COVID-19 restrictions are starting to be eased, we AgingOptions are excited to announce a new series of in-person seminars coming soon. For now Rajiv will only be offering in-person events in communities where gatherings are permitted under the governor’s phased reopening plan. Of course, these events will be conducted in a way that’s consistent with all health guidelines.
Our chief desire is to help you prepare for the kind of retirement you’ve always dreamed of having. LifePlanning is a powerful process that combines financial planning with a housing strategy, a medical plan, a legal foundation plus a plan to involve your loved ones in all aspects of the choices you make as you age. With finances, housing, medical, legal and family all working together, you have a fully integrated LifePlan.
Because of health safeguards, enrollment at our upcoming in-person seminars will be strictly limited. We urge you to visit our Events Page and register now for the LifePlanning Seminar that works for you. Also, as we said above, Rajiv continues to offer his free LifePlanning Seminars in the form of webinars that you can watch conveniently at home. You’ll find a calendar and other important links here on our AgingOptions website.
Reliable information has never been more important – online or in person! That’s our promise to you at AgingOptions. Age on!
(originally reported at https://consumer.healthday.com/)