Pandemic For The Elderly
As we’ve continued to live through the pandemic, it has become evident that the burdens of COVID have weighed much heavier on the elderly than the rest of the population. Seniors more often endure severe complications with viral infection and experience higher mortality rates. As the world turns to technology to create a virtual world to replace the physical one given the need to socially isolate, the elderly who are less familiar with technology are often left behind and left to be more susceptible to extreme isolation and loneliness.
“It’s been very tough. It has made me more appreciative and aware of the smaller things that I should be thankful for.”
The alarming mortality rates of COVID infections for the elderly has been one of the most tragic consequences of the pandemic, related to comorbid medical conditions and less effective immune systems. The danger of infection has driven the elderly to live with greater caution with periods of extreme loneliness and isolation. When asked about how she is dealing with isolation, Mrs. Susan Park, an 85 year old Korean immigrant who currently lives in Queens, New York, said “It’s been very tough. It has made me more appreciative and aware of the smaller things that I should be thankful for.” Beyond the boredom and lack of social interactions, the isolation opens the door to mental health and physical disorders. Depression, anxiety, stroke, dementia, and suicide have all been found to be exacerbated by extreme loneliness.
“I am very concerned that barriers to getting vaccines are having an unequal impact upon our older population."
While technology and virtual interactions has been the primary mode by which social connections have been maintained for many during this period of physical isolation, technology is less accessible to the elderly, eliminating this potential solution to their loneliness. The technology barrier has even posed a significant barrier for access to medical care, including importantly scheduling for COVID vaccine administrations that rely on web-based platforms. The elderly who are additionally not native English speakers or have vision and hearing impairments place them at even more extreme disadvantages for gaining access to the vaccines. Dr. XinQi Dong, a director of the Institute for Health, Health Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers University, stated, “I am very concerned that barriers to getting vaccines are having an unequal impact upon our older population”. I spoke to Mr. Sammy Hsiao, a 74 year old Taiwanese immigrant who has lived in the US for nearly 50 years and is fluent in English about his difficulties with scheduling an appointment for the covid vaccine. “I had a lot of trouble navigating the website to make my appointment. I would not have been able to do it without the help of my daughter.” This has indeed been the experience for many of the elderly who must rely on their family or friends to help arrange vaccine appointments for them.
Overall, the elderly have been severely affected by the pandemic. The isolationism has led to many new health problems and the dependence on new technology has left many disadvantaged. Systemic improvements in facilitating medical care, helping create social connections, and improving medical access for the elderly are needed to protect them as a vulnerable population. On a microscale, we as individuals can also be more sensitive to the challenges for the elderly during this time, taking the time to attend to their unique needs, keeping in mind that even the smallest actions can make a difference.