Senior citizens neglected amid COVID-19

Throughout+COVID-19%2C+senior+citizens+have+been+hit+the+hardest.+In+addition+to+feeling+isolated+and+anxious%2C+they+have+not+received+sufficient+support.+As+a+community%2C+we+must+ensure+that+they+are+prioritized.

Gabrielle Meidar

Throughout COVID-19, senior citizens have been hit the hardest. In addition to feeling isolated and anxious, they have not received sufficient support. As a community, we must ensure that they are prioritized.

By Gabrielle Meidar, The American School in London

Whether through remote learning, financial insecurity, or inability to visit family, the coronavirus has undoubtedly affected us all in one way or another. 

For some of us, the anxiety of the pandemic has simmered down. For others, especially senior citizens, it has not; the devastating trauma of isolation and 24-hour news cycles congested with alarming reports continues.

Given the magnitude of the virus throughout 2020 and 2021, the percentage of adults with an anxiety or a depressive disorder increased from 36.4% to 41.5%, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

It is incumbent on all of us to recognize that senior citizens are disproportionately experiencing  an increase in mental health issues commensurate with the virus risks they face. This compounds their existing challenges with isolation. 

Because COVID-19 has proven to largely affect the elderly, stringent preventative measures have been implemented to protect them since day one. However, have these restrictions done more harm than good?

As members of Gen Z, we have grown up in a world of technological advances: the iPhone, iPad, smart TVs, watches. Hence, we have adapted through the lockdowns and national restrictions by using digital alternatives for our daily activities. The simple technological skills we have acquired through the innumerable times we have used our mobile devices or logged onto Zoom create an inequitable digital divide with the elderly. On top of suffering from stress over the risks of the pandemic, they are unable to make the most out of new technology.

The use of technology — being able to FaceTime your loved ones or download new apps for entertainment — can help combat the anxiety and depression to which senior citizens are susceptible. However, a survey conducted by Pew Research Center reveals that only roughly 40% of seniors residing in the U.S. are smartphone owners compared to 96% of 18 to 29-year-olds.

Throughout the pandemic, the elderly have had more to fear than any other age group. Last year, as the pandemic was emerging, I remember watching the news as the death count increased by the minute. Compounded with the loneliness of isolation, I can’t imagine the level of fear and anxiety as someone who is more vulnerable to contracting the virus. 

It is time for us to acknowledge that the elderly have been neglected throughout the pandemic. While this is partly due to government regulations in place stopping many from visiting their loved ones, I would argue that it is more because we have been too focused on ourselves and not enough on the vulnerable. It is not too late to commit to looking out for our senior citizens, and it does not take much to put a smile on their faces.

It is not too late to commit to looking out for our senior citizens, and it does not take much to put a smile on their faces.”

First and foremost, FaceTime your grandparents on a regular basis. This can simply include giving them an update on your life and asking them questions about theirs. These conversations bring them joy, especially at a time where they are lacking regular social interaction. 

Secondly, encourage elders to use technology to their advantage. There seems to be a stigma around the ability to use technology among older adults, but don’t let them tell you they can’t do it. Take the time to teach them, and they will be grateful to know how to call their friends or download movies on their devices.

Even if your family lives afar, look out for them along with your elderly neighbors. Even with the barriers brought by the pandemic, you can still volunteer for your local nursing home by sending letters, video calling and waving from outside the window. 

We must look beyond ourselves and recognize the importance of ensuring that our senior citizens — those who have paved the way for us and dedicated their lives to society at large — are not forgotten.

This story was originally published on The Standard on September 20, 2021.