The Coronavirus has severely affected the United States, and the world in general. However, one population that has been particularly affected by this horrid pandemic is the 65+ population, for about 8 in 10 Americans killed by COVID-19 thus far have been 65 and older.
One would hope for a compassionate response to this fact, a response that tries to make sure that the populations that seem most vulnerable (older persons as well as the immunocompromised) are taken care of. Unfortunately, that has not always been the case; instead, some have responded with something along the lines of “oh, it’s just old people.” There are several issues with this “it’s just old people” response:
- Such comments come across as if older persons are not of as much value as the rest of us and are therefore not worth saving as much as everyone else is.
- Such comments are also, in a way, attacking our future selves—many of us may end up being older persons at some point, so devaluing older persons is in a way devaluing some of our future selves.
- Such comments are also attacking of some of our family members. You know what? If you’re saying “it’s just old people” and you have family or friends who are over the age of 65, you are, de facto, attacking those family members or friends.
- While the virus has disproportionately affected older persons, it’s not just old people dying of the virus. Younger persons, including and especially those who are immunocompromised, have also been seriously affected by the virus, and in some cases, killed. I wrote about one such person—a family friend—in my most recent COVID update post.
If we are to rid ourselves of this “it’s just old people” sort of attitude, we will need to completely change our mindset in terms of how much the lives of older persons matter. In my observations, at least, this issue with how much many people in our society value the lives of older persons dates back to long before COVID. The pandemic may have heightened our awareness of this issue, but the issue did not start with the pandemic.
As to how we go about changing those perceptions, I’m not completely sure, but addressing a couple of problems may help address the “it’s just old people” attitude:
- There can be this attitude of “such-and-such old person will die soon anyway, so there’s no need to worry” (an attitude that I know my mom’s mother, who is in her nineties, has experienced herself since before the pandemic). With many people living to their eighties, nineties, and even sometimes over 100 years old, the assumption that a person will die soon is in some cases a mistaken assumption. Even if it’s not a mistaken assumption, it is vital to make someone’s quality of life as good as it can possibly be while they are on this earth.
- Who matters most, at least in the United States, feels like it is often tied to who is making the most money. As the overwhelming majority of those 65 and older in the United States are not employed or looking for work, the non-working older population is less likely to be viewed as being of value as the rest of the population. A key here might be to realize that someone need not make lots of money to be of value of society.
Regardless of the source of the “it’s just old people” mentality, it is a mentality that needs to be gotten rid of, for the sake of older persons and the pandemic as a whole. People’s lives may very well count on a shift of attitude towards older persons.