The Shifting Sands of Societal Value of the Aged

How can we think, in an objective an useful way, about the value of the aged? Let’s start by considering this thought:

Youth is wasted on the young!

Many older people watch today’s youth blundering through life. Elders often perplex at the young’s signature irreverence, and illusion of immortality. Moreover, youngsters also exhibit cliché-like absolute confidence in their limited knowledge of life. But, believe it or not, this is not exclusive to contemporary times, not by a long shot:

[Young people] are high-minded because they have not yet been humbled by life, nor have they experienced the force of circumstances. (…) They think they know everything and are always quite sure about it.

Rhetoric, Aristotle, 4th Century B.C.E.

The youth often looks down from an elevated level of unconscious incompetence at the elderly. They simply don’t see the value of the wisdom and experience locked up in their aging bodies.

This lack of understanding and care has become frighteningly apparent as the COVID-19 pandemic rushes through the world.

How so?

A closer look at the numbers tells a somewhat grim story. Namely of the effect COVID-19 has had on the elderly population. And an even more somber realization is how the world powers are dealing with it.

RELATED: Technology Should Have – And Still Can – Help Fight The Pandemic

The Effect of COVID-19 on the Elderly

So far, the statistics on the effect of COVID look something like this.


Source As of 26 May 2020

COVID-19 can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, or nationality. Statistics have offered data to show that approximately 5% of people are susceptible to severe infection requiring admission to an intensive care unit and/or resulting in a fatal outcome.

This small percentage of people has been identified by two main factors: medical comorbidity and/or age. If we remove these two main factors, then the death rate of COVID-19 shrinks to less than 1%.

The article above from Psychiatric Times says that at least two factors influence COVID-19 fatality rate estimates. Namely, estimated rates will be higher for people with at least one of the following:

  • comorbid medical illness (e.g., obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes)
  • age above 85 years (e.g., a nursing home population).

And there’s the kicker: older people are more likely to suffer from the comorbid conditions of obesity, respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease or liver illness which provide the perfect storm for the coronavirus.

This vulnerable group, especially those confined to nursing homes, are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 fatalities.

What is happening on the flip side of the coin?

The aged have value, especially due to the experience they accumulated during their lifetimes. An arguably untapped social treasure.
Hyfeapp for the aged

The Economic Impact

It’s safe to say that the public, in general, is fed up with the lockdown and the economic pressures that they are enduring. This is said without diluting the mental and emotional toll that COVID-19 has taken on those that are suffering with or have lost loved ones to the illness – it’s just a sad fact.

Many people outside of the COVID hotspots have not seen the sickness first-hand, have not lost anyone, and in many cases, don’t know anyone who has lost someone dear to them. What this means is that there exists a restlessness with the man on the street as well as within the business communities to reopen the economy and get “back to normal.”

Governments are watching their GDP dropping and unemployment climbing as small businesses, in particular, succumb to the pressure of COVID.

The problem runs even deeper: In some U.S states, the local government has “recommended” that certain businesses reopen, but many are reluctant to do so. Why?

Forbes spells it out for us.

“The businesses are “allowed” to open, but the owners are hesitant. What happens when they decide not to comply and then file a claim for business interruption insurance (if they haven’t already done so)? That business interruption insurance will probably be denied the minute the opportunity to reopen is established. Because they could operate, even at a reduced capacity, but they are choosing not to do so.

“Landlords can demand the rent – even from businesses that are slow to re-open – because the bowling alley, restaurant, and movie theatres could generate revenue. What if the owners find the courage to open their doors, but customers don’t show up? Will creditors and overhead break the back of underperforming small enterprises?”

Establishing Priorities – Where does the Value of the Aged Come In?

So here we are. Firstly, with an aging population at risk of a virulent illness, locked up in hospitals and nursing homes. Secondly, the global economy is on the brink of disaster. Thirdly, business owners and government authorities need to get things running again but don’t know how. To sum up, there is a genuine possibility of a worldwide depression.

This is, indeed, a mess!

We’re seeing a push for the economy to open. And for people to exercise “reasonable care when going about their business.”

That’s all well and good, but the statistics for the elderly remain the same: 13% of people 80 years or older will succumb to COVID-19 if exposed.

Are the authorities turning a blind eye to this number? Does the economy take priority over these lives? Are the aged dispensable, having lived their lives and paid their taxes? Some think governments are intentionally placing the elderly at risk to reduce the costs to the economy.

There are over 110 million people over the age of 80 alive today. (Source) That means that approximately 14.5 million people could potentially fall victim to COVID-19.

14.5 million grandmothers, grandfathers, parents, favorite aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends… In short, an entire generation of knowledge, wisdom, and family stories will go untold. So what price do we put on the lives of these elderly ones?

There is no easy answer to any of these questions. And we will likely find we need to make concessions wherever we stand on the debate.

All we ask is this: can we please reach concessions not paid in human lives?

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