Unfortunately, ageism is still very relevant during this crisis. Ageism and the Coronavirus (COVID-19) are intertwined. If we do not reframe how we think about aging, we will suffer even more from this crisis and its aftermath.
Now, more than ever, we need to come to terms with ageism. People who would not have told you a few weeks ago that they could care less about whether your grandparents die, are all of sudden publicly proclaiming it. Some people are even suggest that it is a good thing. Above all, ageism may even be making the situation worse, as some people skip precautions.
Do we really only value the young and those in perfect health (if there is a such thing)? No. We cannot let those voices be the loudest.
Ageism hurts our fight against Coronavirus
Ageism can hurt our battle with this virus. If people are not concerned about older and immune-compromised people, they may be less willing to take precautions. This only helps the virus spread.
Ageism may be making us think falsely that we are safe. In Colorado, the majority of people diagnosed with COVID-19 are under 60 years of age. (See the chart.) We are still learning about this disease and how it works.
We also could be making health care decisions based on prejudices. Many health care professionals are concerned that resources may need to be rationed. Ageism, racism, classism and other “isms” complicate the impossible decisions they will have to make about how to distribute health care. Age is not a straight-forward indicator of the value of treatment.
Ageism is a form of “othering”, where we distance ourselves from another group, taking away our common humanity. It is too easy to think that Coronavirus only happens to other, older or sicker, people. Recently, a younger family member said that what made him start taking this virus seriously was when a friend became acutely sick and this healthy, younger, athletic guy was hospitalized.
Fighting ageism has real, practical value
We need older people. Ageism and the coronavirus cannot erase that.
Right now, retired doctors and nurses are coming back to help with shortages in the medical system. In the first day after the request went out for help, 1,000 retired medical professionals answered the call in New York City. We need their experience.
As before this virus, grandparents and older relatives are caring for kids. More than 6 million kids in the U.S. live with a grandparent and over a third of those are in a household without a parent. Because of this, some of these grandparent caregivers are now risking their health to care for their family.
When the health crisis is past us, we will have to recover our economy. We will be working through tough times and possibly a recession. Older professionals offer leadership, experience and flexibility as mentors. Furthermore, adults over 60 will still be a huge part of the economy, spending and using services.
Additionally, older adults serve our communities in other, often unseen, but crucial ways. 23.5% of older adults volunteered for 1.9 billion hours of service in 2015, and that doesn’t include informal commitments. This is an incredible resource, with volunteers often doing work that would not happen otherwise.
Older adults will still be acting as caregivers for children as parents work and look for jobs after the crisis, with a quarter of kids cared for after school by grandparents. Many families have no other choice by to rely upon older relatives for child care.
Fighting ageism and the coronavirus
Reframing aging is not just a nice thing to do. This crisis is further exposing ageism and how it hurts us.
There is not only one kind of “valuable” citizen. Those who are differently abled, who are ill, who are older, who earn less or are retired are equal members of society. We are all connected and need all perspectives, ages and abilities to become the best we can be.
Reframing aging means valuing what everyone at every age has to offer. It would be a truly be a loss if all the older or sick people were gone. Age and abilities do not define us. We are defined by what we do. People of all ages and abilities make a difference.
Fighting ageism and fighting coronavirus are intertwined. We need older adults to remain healthy and active. We must reframe aging because it is both right and entirely practical. Let us not allow ageism and the coronavirus to blind us to the obvious. Ageism hurts us all right now.
Janine Vanderburg, Director of Changing the Narrative in Colorado
Sara Breindel, Changing the Narrative blogger