Gifts from a Pandemic #4: New Respect for Our Elderly


Writing about this global pandemic has gotten me thinking a lot about the elderly.

It must be frightening and frustrating to be in that age group that is so vulnerable to complications from Covid-19.

So many of us are checking in on our older loved ones and neighbors more than ever with this global pandemic, delivering groceries to their doorstep, and feeling more protective, with good reason.

I feel like this focus on our older population during this time of the Coronavirus could shift things for the better over the long-term.

At least that ‘s the hope.

This cross-the-board renewed sentiment of caring for and protecting our most vulnerable (and being home more as we shelter-in-place so we have more time to do it) brings our older population out of the shadows.

We are paying more attention.

We are paying attention to those living alone.

We are paying attention to those living in senior care facilities.

We are paying attention to the courageous, caring, loving healthcare workers who provide their care, and are holding them to the standard of what we would want for our own.

This new spotlight on our older population is a gift because, well, it’s deeply needed.

In the past decades, with the increase in lifespan and cultural changes, there has a been a shift away from our elderly living amongst us, helping to care for our young, assisting with the running of the household and providing a presence for our younger generation, toward more and more seniors living on their own instead.

Many of those living alone are living long, robust independent lives, many continuing to work long past retirement age.

When healthy, this can work well.

When unhealthy and vulnerable, the lack of extended family living has created societal challenges that are relatively new from a historical perspective. We’ve kind of backed into this with no real plan, and it shows.

With our older population increasing in size as the first baby boomers are now 74 (the youngest are 56), pharmaceuticals being so expensive, and so many problems with our healthcare system, how we treat our elderly should be front and center.

It’s time.

Yet it’s a challenge that all too often gets lowered on the priority list because, like most segments of our population who take from rather than contribute to our economic sector, it’s easy to dismiss their voice.

It’s easy for them to stay hidden, forgotten from our public consciousness.

But not anymore.

Covid-19 is in the headlines and our seniors are too.

In our own family, with our parents living so far away, we are checking in more often from afar.

We are calling more, scheduling family zoom and FaceTime calls, during which we hover more, asking questions like, “Do you really have to do your groceries, or go for that check-up?”

We are grateful for the other family members close by who can provide the support we can’t.

And we are grateful for our parents’ communities, flat neighborhoods and nearby green spaces in which to walk, and friends and neighbors who, although they are also elderly, are supporting each other (all of which has shown to extend longevity in research studies).

In my mother’s neighborhood, a 55 and older community, she and her neighbors are showing us how social distancing and supporting each other are really done, complete with dance parties where each person stays in front of his or her own driveway, waves flags and sings “God Bless America!”

That brings me to the next gift of the pandemic, when it comes to the elderly.

In these times of Covid-19, we are not just paying attention to seniors because they are vulnerable, we are paying attention because they are so amazing.

Seniors are doing amazing things.

Perhaps you’ve heard about Tom Moore, the decorated British war veteran who, just before his 100th birthday, which is on April 30, raised more than 27 million British pounds for the British National Health Service (NHS), which provides healthcare for all UK citizens regardless of their ability to pay.

Tom Moore did this by walking 100 laps in his backyard with his walker (which I just learned is called a zimmerframe in the UK!). Here’s a video of the Duke and Duchess singing his praises too!

And he’s not alone. The more we focus on how vulnerable seniors are with Covid-19, the more we also are being reminded again and again of their humanity, how resilient they are, how so many of them have created such deeply fulfilling lives, and how important their social connections, hobbies, volunteer commitments and spiritual activities are to their own well-being and how these benefit us all.

Which brings me to one more benefit all this focus on seniors has had.

We are learning from our elderly about how to overcome tough times.

Many of our elderly were raised by parents who survived the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 and the Great Depression from 1929 to 1939.

Their core values, resiliency strategies and way of looking at life and this pandemic are rooted in an understanding of how to navigate life challenges far beyond anything any of us have ever experienced.

They are inspiring us, giving us hope, and reminding us we can get through this by shining a light on other difficult times in history, like Queen Elizabeth II, age 93 did in her speech a few weeks ago.

Our elder leaders, friends and family members are powerful role models on dignity, reaching out, making the best of what is in our power right now, and keeping us going with encouragement and a reminder that we can win this fight.

They are inspiring us with their stamina, courage and commitment, and are reminding us that old age doesn’t have to mean just needing help.

Getting older also means offering hope and a connection to what matters most, reminding each of us of the power we have to move ahead in tough times.

We all know we’ve never experienced anything quite like this before. Wisdom from past times, including how to survive emotionally and psychologically is important, and comes from our more experienced voices.

When we need reassurance or advice, it helps to hear it from someone who has firsthand experience with why it’s true.

That is a role our seniors are playing, which helps us all.

And so, that’s why this fourth article in my blog series on the unexpected gifts coming from this Covid-19 pandemic is dedicated to them.

The brightened spotlight on our seniors is increasing our respect for them, and offering a platform for their valuable voices of wisdom at a time when we need them most.

More articles like this:

Here are the other articles in this blog series on the unexpected gifts from Covid-19

7 Lessons Almost Dying Taught Me About Living (and how that can help us get through this pandemic)

How Are You, Really?


Here’s how you get back to home.

Copyright © 2020, Laurie Smith, All rights reserved. Photo credits: Shutterstock/Feelartfeelant; Moore family via AP; The Buckingham Palace via Getty Images

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If you have other links or examples of how our elderly throughout the world are inspiring us at this time, please share them in the comment section below. Thanks, and stay safe.

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