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Ageism and COVID-19

Ageism lurks as an ever-present influence in our society, but it has come roaring onto center stage with the COVID-19 crisis. A professor of medicine was recently on NPR talking about how decisions might be made if ventilator or other shortages forced choices about which COVID-19 patients were treated or not. After poor survival prospects, she listed years left to live and life cycle stage as criteria.

Without minimizing the difficulty of such choices, once again it seems evident that prioritizing youth over age is the natural reflex. And once again, broad categories of people are painted with the same brush, without regard to individual merit or contribution. Here are some reasons we might want to think in a more nuanced way about the value of age.

> Many of the people who are working the hardest and have the most experience with which to fight this pandemic are older. And their expertise will be needed to help bring us out of this situation once the crisis abates.

> A quarter of older adults are still working, adding significantly to the productive capacity of our economy. Large numbers are unpaid caregivers, allowing other family members to work, adding further economic value.

> A third of older people are unpaid volunteers, contributing almost half of all volunteer hours and more than 40 percent of all charitable donations. This fuels the social sector in ways that younger people cannot and that we will rely heavily upon in the wake of this situation.

So how do we combat the simple notion that people are expendable once they get sick or get old? Here are three message ideas drawn from the Frameworks Institute:

  • We're all in this together and we all have a part to play in protecting the interests of everyone, including ourselves.
  • Everyone is affected in some way by this crisis, not just certain groups like those that are older and sicker.
  • We're all making adjustments, even sacrifices, in our effort to overcome a threat that we face in common.
Find more detail about Frameworks message ideas here.
Read a blog post from Changing the Narrative Colorado here.
Read an interview with Louise Aronson, author of Elderhood, here.