Reprinted from the Des Moines Register March 21.
There is no evidence yet that being older puts one at higher risk of contracting coronavirus. What we do know, though: People over age 60 who contract it are more likely to have severe, life-threatening problems.
The mortality rate from COVID-19 increases with age, and those with underlying health conditions are especially vulnerable. Many older people have more than one health condition. Nearly one in five Iowans is over the age of 65.
This is why nursing homes, assisted living centers and senior housing complexes have instituted no-visitor policies and are taking special sanitizing precautions. Some are telling residents not to congregate in community areas or halls.
This is obviously the right thing to do.
Yet it will contribute to isolation, which was a problem before this pandemic and brings health risks of its own.
About 28% of older adults in the United States live alone, according to federal data. Loneliness can make people more vulnerable to cognitive decline, depression and heart disease. Isolation takes a toll on physical health.
Now libraries are closed. So are restaurants where retirees gathered for coffee. Instead of group lunches in senior living facilities, meals are being delivered to rooms. Some older people are not connected to others on social media the way younger people are.
So it’s more important than ever to take care of our seniors.
Of course one of the many priorities of the currently overwhelmed local and state governments must be helping seniors who may need expanded access to meal delivery and caregivers. Churches and neighborhoods are stepping up to offer grocery runs, assistance with transportation and other support.
ll of us can do more to help our older family, friends and neighbors. Call them on the telephone. Send emails. In addition to dropping off groceries to a main desk or balcony, include photos and letters.
Don’t assume neighbors have people helping them. If there is an elderly couple living nearby, leave a note on their porch with your name, phone number and address. Let them know they can contact you if they need anything at all.
As the weather warms, seniors themselves should consider plans to meet outside at a picnic table or park, keeping some distance between each other and away from other people.
This country is not facing a short-term crisis. Social distancing could go on for months while scientists work to find treatments and a vaccine.
In the meantime, life will continue to throw at us the difficulties it always has. People will have heart attacks or will need emergency dental care. Furnaces will break down. Storms will hit. Dogs will get sick.