26.05.2020 Author: Vladimir Odintsov

COVID-19 Pandemic and the Elderly Population

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The COVID-19 pandemic currently ravaging the world revealed not only the vulnerabilities in social policies implemented by various countries, and in healthcare and emergency management systems, but also other afflictions that modern Western societies suffer from, such as xenophobia, indifference to the plight of the poorest communities and the focus of the elites on increasing their own earnings. During the Coronavirus crisis, death has often been viewed in a very pragmatical manner. Decisions are sometimes made based on costs, i.e. the number of beds and ventilators available for those whose lives are worth saving using the scarce equipment and personnel. In other words, the value of a human life has, at times, been determined by the time and money spent to save it.

A variety of mental deviations are omnipresent in modern societies and some of them are bound to make us feel ashamed when we’re going to look in the eye of our descendants. Among these deviations one can name the level of care provided to the elderly that has considerably deteriorated recently.

It is no secret to anyone that the Coronavirus (just as any other epidemic or natural disaster) is particularly dangerous for elderly people because many of them suffer from chronic diseases; they are not in as good of a physical shape as before, and their immune systems are generally weaker. That is why this at risk age group of 65+ individuals ought to be treated more humanely and with a greater degree of care. After all, most people will sooner or later reach that age.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many nations have tried to do just that by creating special networks of volunteers and social security services to help the elderly; by providing older citizens with additional subsidies and benefits, and by ensuring better access to various services under lock down for them. Such actions have been taken in China, Russia and a number of European nations.

Still, it must be said that some countries have chosen to ignore the needs of their elderly populations.

For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, when Italy lacked sufficient support from the European Union as well as medical staff and necessary equipment, there were calls not to prioritize the treatment of elderly patients, as reported by the BBC. In fact, such advice came from an organization, which is meant to advocate humane treatment of all individuals, i.e. SIAARTI – the Italian Society of Anesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation and Intensive Care. The body recommended providing intensive care to patients with the highest chances of therapeutic success. “It may become necessary to establish an age limit for access to intensive care,” say the guidelines especially published by SIAARTI for medical professionals during the crisis. The document essentially advised doctors and nurses against providing intensive care to those “who are too old to have a high likelihood of recovery, or who have too low a number of ‘life-years’ left even if they should survive”.

After Russia sent medical aid to Italy and the situation stemming from the Coronavirus pandemic gradually stabilized, there was no longer a need to heed such recommendations. Still, the far from humane attitude towards Italy’s senior citizens exhibited by certain Italians and institutions certainly gives us food for thought…

The BBC report mentioned earlier lends further proof to the theory that British media outlets are all too prone to air other countries’ dirty laundry in public instead of focusing on their own domestic affairs. After all, it is common knowledge that not all elderly people in the Kingdom are treated equally well. At present, there are 11.56 million senior citizens residing in Great Britain. According to a report prepared by Council Support for Care Self Funders, approximately 170,000 UK citizens residing in retirement facilities pay fees to stay there themselves. One fourth of them eventually spend all of their savings in this manner. They also spend all the money received from sales of their property if any and, as a result, their children and grandchildren are left without any inheritance. When pensioners run out of funds, managers of care homes either pressure relatives to pay the fees or suggest that a senior citizen move to a facility with worse conditions. Numerous reports, published by British media outlets, on this topic prove yet again that UK care homes (due to the highly profitable nature of such businesses) have long turned from institutions meant to provide the elderly with social support into simply sources of earnings for their owners and investors.

Hence, it is not surprising that the number of deaths in UK care homes increased considerably during the Coronavirus pandemic. According to data published by Britain’s Office for National Statistics, as of May 15, 40% of reported COVID-19 deaths in the country occurred in retirement facilities. The British government has already been severely criticized for allowing the Coronavirus to spread uncontrollably (as reported by media outlets) in care homes. An article in the Daily Mail said that some residents in UK retirement facilities “were forced to die alone and in agony because overwhelmed homes did not have enough staff to be with every victim as they passed away”.

The situation the elderly in the United States find themselves in is also quite sad. Some older patients infected with the Coronavirus in the USA did not receive the medical assistance they required. Richard Mollot, the Executive Director of the Long-Term Care Community Coalition, has described numerous problems faced by senior citizens as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in US nursing homes.

A German news outlet recently published a report discussing the question “of how doctors should decide” who to put on ventilators if they “would actually become scarce, as in Italy”. Another even larger question to consider is “Who wants to live with serious illnesses and for how long?”. According to the German Patients’ Protection Foundation, “about half of those looking for help who are calling them these days – often old people with many previous illnesses – say that if they become infected with COVID-19 and are seriously ill, they do not want to be ventilated by machines”.

The current assumption is that those who have recovered from a Coronavirus infection acquire immunity to COVID-19 and can, therefore, enjoy all the benefits societies have to offer. However, some scientists have doubts about this theory. Nonetheless, at present, many countries are working on introducing “immunity passports”, an issue being lobbied by business sectors that have been badly affected by the pandemic. It is sad to say but in such a context, people over 65 are being increasingly ostracized nowadays. The current statistics on death rates from COVID-19 lower their chances of obtaining immunity passports several fold, since, on average, 10% of the elderly infected with the Coronavirus die as a result.

In addition, the rights of citizens who are over 65 are bound to be infringed even more. After all, instead of trying to save the life of say a 70-year old citizen by any means necessary (i.e. intensive care, medical professionals working in shifts, etc.), in many countries, it is considered to be much easier and cheaper to prevent such individuals from visiting public places; to ensure senior citizens visit certain shops where they can buy food during special hours only, and to encourage them to essentially isolate from the rest of the world.

Vladimir Odintsov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook“.


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