Celebrating Older People, Especially During COVID-19
May is Older Americans Month, when we celebrate the contributions of older people throughout their lifetimes. Despite current limitations, that celebration is more important now than ever, as we see COVID-19 disproportionately impacting older people and their families.
As we know from news reports, among the first U.S. deaths due to COVID-19 were residents of a local long-term care facility—older people who required nursing or special care. Local COVID-19 data shows that a large percentage of those who have passed due to COVID were in their 70s and 80s. We know that people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and asthma who have contracted the virus have had worse outcomes than those who do not have those conditions.
Older people are not the only population experiencing greater negative impacts from coronavirus disease. Although COVID race and poverty data is incomplete, we know that individuals with limited access to health care, transportation, public safety, social support, literacy, and other community-based resources and those who have experienced discrimination, racism, and distrust are at greater risk during this pandemic. Any population experiencing disproportionate rates of heart disease and other chronic conditions is at a significant disadvantage if exposed to the coronavirus.
Services provided by Aging and Disability Services (ADS) and other Area Agencies on Aging across the country have made a world of difference in protecting clients from the coronavirus. Here are three examples:
- One of ADS’ core services is case management for Medicaid-eligible people who need long-term services and supports—a program funded by federal and state governments that has helped people who need a little extra support remain independent in their own homes instead of moving to a costly care facility. In King County alone, more than 11,000 low-income older adults and others who qualify for this service have been supported with varying levels of in-home care throughout the COVID-19 crisis, with extra precaution taken to prevent transmitting of virus between clients and caregivers.
- Our Community Living Connections call center (toll-free 844-348-5464) has answered hundreds of calls for information and referrals to community services from older people, adults with disabilities, caregivers, family members, and more during the COVID-19 crisis.
- ADS community partners have rallied to support vulnerable clients in new ways—for example, retooling community meal sites into home-delivery food services. They are among the food resources listed on the COVID-19 Emergency Food Resources interactive map. In addition, Lifelong’s Chicken Soup Brigade and Sound Generations’ Meals on Wheels program continue to deliver meals to those who need that service for a longer term.
One call every day
Adhering to Governor Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” directive is easier for some of us than others. Self-quarantine with no end in sight can amplify feelings of loneliness, which a significant percentage of older people already experienced before COVID-19 arrived. We are beginning to hear about increased negative health effects among people who are both lonely and isolated. For more information, read “Just What Older People Didn’t Need: More Isolation” (New York Times) and “COVID-19 isn’t just a danger to older people’s physical health” (American Psychological Association).
We’ve published multiple AgeWise articles about ways to stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic (March 18 special edition and two articles in the April issue). But here’s the catch—people who were already experiencing loneliness before coronavirus became a household word are not as likely to take advantage of the opportunities we’ve provided as those who are already active, outgoing, and engaged.
Here’s where YOU come in. If every AgeWise reader would commit to calling one older person each day, it could make a world of difference. Chances are that you know someone—a friend you haven’t seen for well over a month, a family member, a neighbor—who is living alone. They may be just fine, but how do you know without calling? One call every day.
Celebrating Older Americans Month
So, how can we celebrate the enormous difference that older people have made throughout their lifetimes when we cannot reach out and touch them? Here are some ideas:
- Reach out but maintain a minimum distance of six feet. Visit an older neighbor but stay outside, at least six feet from the door, or on the sidewalk—whatever it takes to have a conversation without endangering yourself or your neighbor.
- The 2020 Older Americans Month theme is “Make Your Mark.” Tell your older neighbor—in person or in writing—how much you have appreciated them as a neighbor and why. Here’s an example that you can adapt to your own circumstances: “I wanted to see how you’re doing but also I want to say how much I appreciate that you always remember recycle day. You make a difference in my life!”
- Leave a bouquet of flowers from your garden with a note—whether you sign it or make it anonymous, it’s a gracious way to acknowledge someone who makes a difference in your life.
- Help older people stay home and stay healthy. If you have the means to do it and have some idea of dietary restrictions, if any, order a bag of nutritious food or a delicious meal for delivery to the person you want to acknowledge.
- Send cards and letters through the U.S. Postal Service. Enclose a photo or other memento of time when the elder you’re celebrating made a difference in your life.
- Make a charitable donation in the name of someone you wish to honor, and ask the organization to send that person a note. It’s especially meaningful when the recipient organization is focused on a cause that your honoree is passionate about.
- Write about older people who have made a difference in your life or are currently making a difference in your life. Share with your neighborhood blog or in your own social media. On social media, add the national Older Americans Month hashtag: #OAM2020
- Use neighborhood-based social media (e.g., Nextdoor) to encourage others to do the same.
- Ask an older person you care about to take time while confined at home to write a story about their life or share their story through a conversation with you. If you both use computers, you can record the conversation using Zoom. A Zoom Basic account is free and it allows for a 40-minute conversation, as often as you wish. A simple voice recorder would also work.
For more Older Americans Month 2020 activity ideas, click here.
Until further notice, please stay home and stay healthy—because there’s nothing more important than your health and the well-being of our community!
Contributor Ava Frisinger chairs the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services, which publishes AgeWise King County. She welcomes input from readers via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) as well as applicants for open positions on the council. For more information, visit www.agingkingcounty.org/advisory-council.
This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of AgeWise King County.