The pandemic significantly affected all of us in one way or another but decimated our senior population. Social workers report that elderly survivors have been left with lingering feelings of dread and abandonment that continue to affect the quality of the little life they have left.
Total Number of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S.
85 and older - 295,010
75-84 --- 287,729
65-74 --- 248,635
Total Over 65 831,374 (75%)
- Their contemporaries dying all around them at a rate never experienced in their lifetimes.
- Medical providers discussing triaging care according to age due to scarce medical supplies.
- They were told that the nursing homes they lived in were the most dangerous places anyone could inhabit during the pandemic.
- The deaths of their friends were often slow and painful.
- Fear is often at the root of why people avoid others. Our society takes part in many efforts to avoid aging. We take supplements, we dye our hair, we subject ourselves to sometimes life-threatening plastic surgery all in service to avoid (God forbid) appearing old. Aging-related anxiety is real and understandable, but it blocks us from providing ethical, respectful, and purposeful support to older adults.
- Modern electronic communication devices have changed the way we interact with our loved ones. Young people like the change while the elderly feel abandoned without the face-to-face contact, they are accustomed to.
- As the number of cases and deaths continued to grow, most of us handled the strain by simply continuing to live our lives as younger, healthier people because this virus was just like any other flu—an inconvenience for healthy, young people but potentially deadly to older and sicker people.
Our overall attitude toward aging and the blemish that COVID put on the elderly are at the root of the long-term clinical depression pandemic (especially in nursing homes) the elderly are continuing to suffer. Most people we talked to about this second pandemic didn't believe that they had any part in abandoning or depressing the elderly. Young people believe that they "love" their grandparents and care about them very much, and they probably do. However, when we asked them to question themselves on the following topics, they admitted that they were surprised by how little they knew about their grandparents.
- How many times in a week do you call your grandparents?
- How many times a month do you visit them?
- If they reside in an elderly facility, how many times have you visited them?
- How often do you seek their advice?
- Do you listen or tune out when they offer advice?
- Can you share humor with your grandparent? Tell him/her a joke and expect them to get it?
- Do you confine contact with your grandparent to social media?
- Do you know who your grandparents' parents were? Do you know when they immigrated to the U.S. and what country they came from?
- Do you know exactly how old your grandmother is?
- Do you know what your grandfather did for a living?
The questions above were a self-examination designed to serve only as a wake-up call. Social workers tell us that our unconscious abandonment of the elderly comes from our country's celebration of youth and our natural fear of dying. It is not a lack of caring or narcissism but rather a survival instinct that causes us to avoid the elderly, especially when they're ill and in danger of passing.
"All I'm asking for is a little respect."
"A whole new attitude toward the elderly begins with a little respect," one case worker told us. "We have to take a few minutes to get to know the elderly in our lives and everything will change. When we realize the contribution that even the most humble of them made to their children and grandchildren then we will begin to care and feel comfortable getting a little closer."