The Virtual Costs of COVID Upon the Elderly

The Virtual Costs of COVID Upon the Elderly
The Virtual Costs of COVID Upon the Elderly

After the long months of a lockdown regime, the government, media and other officials did not adequately address the social, mental and emotional consequences of the coronavirus emergency measures.

Indeed, the trauma continues with warnings of a new lockdown. Some people still view socializing as risky behavior. Others think that staying cooped up in a closed house is the only safe way to proceed.

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Thus, many people have turned to the Internet as a substitute for social interaction, especially in dealing with the more vulnerable older people. They reasoned that virtual contact was better than no contact at all.

Counting the Costs of COVID Upon the Elderly

However, the Internet option may make matters worse. A recent study shows that the “virtual contacts” that dominated life during COVID hit older people especially hard.

The two researchers were sociologists, Yang Hu of Lancaster University in the United Kingdom and Yue Qian of the University of British Columbia in Canada.

The new situation makes aging problems worse. Even during regular times, old age is often a time of isolation. Back, hip and knee problems make it more challenging to move about, even between rooms within the home. Increased deafness makes verbal communication more difficult, as does a slowing of cognitive processes. Deteriorating eyesight prevents driving and limits walking out of doors.

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Social Isolation and the Elderly 

For such people, personal interaction with those in other households and generations is vital. Yet, these contacts were precisely those targeted by the COVID lockdowns.

Virtual experiences like meeting on Zoom or sharing pictures on Facebook do not appear to be adequate substitutes. The researchers give two reasons why they think Internet-based contacts were unsatisfactory.

First, many of the elderly found it challenging to use such devices and programs. After all, those raised before emails, social media and cell phones do not have the depth of experience that those born since 1990 might have. Before COVID, many did not desire to build relationships through a technology that they distrusted.

The more significant problem was that such relationships are inherently artificial. The Internet banishes distance. Filters can make participants appear younger or place them against a wholly fictitious background. There was always the possibility that the smiling, professionally dressed person on the screen appears in a shirt and tie while still wearing a pair of jeans below. All these elements contribute to an air of the counterfeit. They foster an impression that the whole situation is synthetic—a poor substitute for genuine contact.

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Asking the Difficult Questions

Sociology is not an exact science, so Drs. Hu and Qian are not able to arrive at specific and undeniable conclusions. The immunologists and public health experts can summon hard data—or at least data that appears to be hard—but those who research the hidden costs of suspending social life for a year cannot. Thus, these latter researchers face restrictions in evaluating the social impact of the COVID lockdown.

For the elderly, many important questions about the coronavirus lockdown and masking regime remain. Some of those questions are social; others are economic or psychological, with others yet being educational.

What will be the effect upon the elderly who fear that anyone without a mask might be an existential risk? What will be the effects upon grandparents of not seeing their grandchildren, and how will this impact the development of young children? There are also questions involving the impact of not receiving the sacraments upon the elderly who need them as they approach their final days.

It will be years before all of these questions are answered. However, they are still essential and must be asked, even if the answers are imperfect.

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