No doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively touched and impacted almost everyone’s life. Whether directly through illness or loss of loved ones, or indirectly through the stringent social restrictions enforced by most countries to limit transmission of the coronavirus, most of us have been affected by it.
However, while discussions of the damaging effects of the pandemic often bring up the enormous impact that the pandemic has had on the service industry and restaurant owners, or the schooling and social lives of children and teenagers, the most vulnerable and heavily affected members of the population are often not afforded the same attention.
Elderly individuals are at the greatest risk due to the pandemic. Not only that, but the restrictions implemented during the pandemic have resulted in wide-scale and potentially life-threatening disruptions to aspects of elderly care. With that in mind, here are five ways that elderly individuals have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Increased risk of infection and severe cases
The most obvious way that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted older adults is in the direct effects of the virus on elderly individuals. Older adults are significantly more vulnerable to COVID-19 compared to younger portions of the populace.
Up to 95% of COVID-19 related deaths occurred in persons above 60 years of age, according to data published by the World Health Organization in April 2020. The non-lethal effects of the virus more seriously jeopardize the long-term health of older individuals, as well.
The coronavirus causes significant distress to vital organs including the heart, lungs, kidney, and brain, all organs already at risk of deterioration due to age. Furthermore, the lasting effects post-treatment of COVID-19 can also compound the effects of aging, including increased cognitive deterioration and joint pain.
Increased risk of mental illness
Aside from the direct effects of the illness, however, the restrictions associated with COVID-19 — such as the closure of most commercial environments and social distancing policies — also disproportionately affect older persons. Social distancing protocols are particularly damaging, resulting in increased reports of loneliness, depression, and anxiety in older adults.
This can lead to health risks and even suicide for this vulnerable population. In addition, older adults tend to be less aware of mental health resources available to them. Sadly, they also tend to be less prioritized for mental health support overall by governments and non-governmental organizations.
Increase in cases of elder abuse
The lockdowns implemented due to COVID-19 have also forced many elderly individuals to remain in enclosed environments with abusive or reluctant caregivers, at home or in retirement centers. This has led to an increase in reports of elder abuse.
Unfortunately, angry and abusive caregivers, aggravated by the stresses and frustrations associated with the pandemic, have taken advantage of their positions to abuse elderly charges either physically or emotionally. Elderly individuals are rarely able to take action against abuse by their caregivers.
This has been especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic, either out of fear of being abandoned without a caregiver or of retaliation from their abusive caregiver. These problems have only been made worse during the pandemic, with elderly individuals having less opportunity to escape their abusers and seek support.
Less medical support available
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed significant holes in medical infrastructure across the world, particularly in the United States. During the early days of the pandemic, hospitals were completely overwhelmed, with day-long or even several day-long wait times just to see a doctor.
Hospital beds and intensive care units were completely filled, with additional patients forced to wait in general care or even sent home. Many elderly individuals were unable to seek their regular care and treatment due to hospitals being overwhelmed or were afraid to visit hospitals due to the risk of infection and transmission in long lines.
Worldwide shipping disturbances also created supply issues for various medications and other support products for elderly individuals. Even now, medical facilities continue to remain occupied by vaccination efforts and COVID-19 treatment.
One way to alleviate this issue is to hire private nursing care at home for elderly individuals. However, the grim reality is that not every family or elderly person is able to afford it, leaving them without the much-needed care they require.
Less priority in public safety response
When governments were planning their response to COVID-19, oftentimes elderly individuals were allowed to fall through the cracks, given less priority when considering how the government would combat the pandemic. Elderly healthcare facilities were not given any governmental oversight or guidance, resulting in massive death tolls at the start of the pandemic.
Furthermore, while significant resources went into economic stimuli for younger adults and students, elderly individuals were not provided with the same attention and benefits. These oversights resulted in severe consequences for the long-term health and quality of life of elderly individuals during the pandemic.
Remembering our elderly loved ones
During the pandemic, elderly individuals were often overlooked, resulting in suffering on a massive scale. This is wholly unacceptable. As a society, we should be taking extra care to provide for and protect the most vulnerable members of the community, rather than abandoning them to the wayside.
Through local advocacy and communicating your concerns with your Congressional representative, you can make it known that elderly care matters to you and improve the situations of elderly persons across the country. In turn, you can help make sure your senior loved ones ultimately get the care they both require and deserve.