One way or another, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on just about everyone. After roughly 12 months of quarantining, distancing, masking and staying home, we’ve all had our lives affected in some way. Many seniors, in particular, have had a rough go of it. Because the virus can be more deadly for members of the senior population, they were directly threatened by it, which led to fear, isolation and uncertainty in what, for many, is meant to be the “golden years” of retirement, time with grandkids and living life to the fullest.
“COVID-19 has disastrously impacted the social infrastructure of older adults,” said Blount Memorial licensed clinical social worker Edward Harper. “Older adults rely on family, friends and church affiliations for social engagement and nourishment. For them, the hallmark of COVID-19 is loneliness. Visitation through screen doors, windows and Facetime has served their communication and delivery needs, however they lack the nurture of the human touch and intimacy of conversation,” he explained. “Older adults in congregate living, assisted living and skilled nursing facilities have perhaps experienced more confinement and isolation than older adults who live at home. Federal, state, public health, infection control and corporate policies and guidelines have exerted control over residents’ movements, housing, associations, access to family and infrastructure due to the restrictions of a quarantine. These losses of intimacy are depressive. Even the stiffest of upper lips will be sad and experience longing,” he added.
But Harper says it goes beyond feelings of isolation and loneliness. “Older adults also are vulnerable to any shift in the infrastructure systems that limit or impair their access and transportation,” he continued. “Access to medications and food are at risk on a daily basis from multiple factors, too. Any event that constitutes a loss of independence affects most everyone, however, older adults often are critically impacted when transportation is disrupted. As Americans, the majority of us live in a ‘just in time’ supply chain, and COVID-19 has been an exponential disruption in our regional and national supply chain. As recent history has revealed, we are not always considerate consumers. Due to limitations, older adults were not able to be competitive in the high-demand, low-supply months of the pandemic,” he said.
Harper says, despite the pandemic’s effects on their lives, many seniors remain optimistic that this year will be better than the last. “Humans, like most other life forms, find a way to survive,” he said. “During this past year, individuals and families have adapted to technologies that connect them, migrated to live closer with families, altered routines to visit and deliver supplies on a weekly basis, and telecommunicated more often. The hope for 2021 seems to be hitched to the development, production, distribution and injection of COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccines are the talk of all generations, especially the older adults, because as the most statistically vulnerable, they among healthcare providers, are the first people slated to receive the protection,” he said. “The vaccine is truly a ‘shot in the arm’ of hope. For them, a vaccine means the freedom to move about and socialize in a safer, more normal fashion. The vaccine may not offer 100 percent immunity from COVID-19, but at a 90 percent-plus statistical probability, older adults feel safer and relieved,” he added.