COVID-19 is impacting the entire community. We all have examples of ourselves and those we know who need help during this difficult and scary time. We wanted to lift up a group that often does not speak out for themselves. As you consider all those experiencing hardship due to the coronavirus, please think about an important, yet often forgotten, part of the community — seniors. Seniors, as all the official reports state, are the most at risk for serious complications and death from the virus. And unfortunately, the best protection for them — and for all of us — is social distancing. Seniors are 20% of the population in our region; 25% percent live alone. For women over 75, that percentage jumps to almost 50%. We know that social isolation can be a killer for seniors. People who share a home at least have each other, but the large percentage of older adults who live by themselves are particularly susceptible to poorer health, depression and even mortality during this time of recommended self-isolation.
“The most difficult part is the lack of social interaction. Emails, texts, and the telephone just do not replace seeing smiles and chatting with others. … There is also a frustration at not being able to help others who are attending those with the virus, or those who are having real problems being alone.”Paul Jacob, Senior volunteer
This is bad enough for older people who have sufficient resources — including transportation — to keep themselves supplied with groceries and virtual connections, but close to 10% of seniors live in poverty. Many more are trying to get by on incomes barely above that level. Lay on top of this the additional social factors of race and ethnicity that can impact access to basic resources, and we have a significant concern. The National League of Cities, in its March 19 posting “Prioritize Equity in COVID-19 Response,” speaks to the need to consider equity for various populations. This includes a measure to “divert workers from other non-essential services to naturally occurring retirement communities and public housing to check on quarantined elderly.” We know that times like this exacerbate the existing inequities. Seniors, already at risk of being marginalized by ageism in our society, are now at heightened risk for the devastating effects of this pandemic. It is the time to protect the most vulnerable. JABA and The Center are continuing to support seniors in a variety of ways, yet our resources are limited as well. Like others serving vulnerable populations, we need everyone to think about how they can support the safety and well-being of isolated seniors. We know that there are seniors who would benefit. Thank you for considering this valued sector of the community.
Marta M. Keane is the CEO of JABA, jabacares.org.
Peter M. Thompson is the executive director of The Center, thecentercville.org.