For the past year and a half, our country and the world has been mired in not one deep crisis, but three: a pandemic, an economic meltdown and social unrest.
Now we are moving past the worst moments which makes it a good time to take a deep breath and assess the changes that have occurred. It’s time to put into practice the lessons that pandemic left us.
Lesson 1: Family Matters More Than We Realized
Older people living alone and having to struggle, separated families and unusual holidays. From February to July 2020, 2.6 million young adults moved back with one or both parents.
Some couples in long-term relationships felt renewed intimacy and reconnection to each other.
The pandemic has forced us to think about the need for community and government support, of having technology to communicate with your doctor and of getting paid leave for family caregivers.
Today we know if you can’t hug your 18-month-old granddaughter in person, you can read to her on FaceTime, you can share your life’s wisdom even from a distance. These coping skills may be the greatest gifts of COVID to an older generation that deeply and rightly fears isolation.
Lesson 2: Self Care Is Not Self-Indulgence
Why care about self-care? Pampering is vital to well-being — for yourself and for those around you. Activities that once felt indulgent became essential to our health and equilibrium, and that self-care mindset is likely to endure. Whether it is permission to take long bubble baths, tinkering in the backyard, or enjoying a herbal tea. Being good to yourself offers a necessary reprieve from whatever horrors threaten us from out there. Being good to yourself is good for others, too.
Learn a new skill; adopt a pet; limit your new diet; ask for help if you need it. You’ve lived long enough to see the value of prioritizing number one.
Lesson 3: Have a Stash Ready for the Next Crisis
Before the pandemic, nearly 4 in 10 households did not have the cash on hand to cover an unexpected $400 expense, according to a recent Federal Reserve report. Then the economic downturn hit. A third of Americans had taken out a loan or early withdrawal from a retirement plan to make ends meet. The pandemic has laid bare so many weaknesses in our safety net.
Lesson 4: ‘Age Is Just a Number’ Has New Meaning
If you’re healthy, how much does older age matter for risk of death from COVID? The health records of 470,034 women and men revealed some intriguing answers.
Age accounted for a higher risk, but comorbidities mattered much more. Specifically, risk for a fatal infection was four times higher for healthy people 75 and older than for all participants younger than 65. But if you compared all those 75 and older — including those with chronic health conditions like high blood pressure, obesity, or lung problems — that shoved the grim odds up thirteenfold.
Lifestyle changes can improve your overall health, which will likely directly reduce your risk of developing severe COVID or dying of COVID. Mobility should be considered one of the vital signs of health.
Lesson 5: We Befriended Technology, and There’s No Going Back
The world has long been going digital. But before the pandemic, standard operating procedure for most older Americans was to buy apples at the grocery, try the shoes on first before buying, have your doctor measure your blood pressure and see that hot new movie at the theater.
Arguably the biggest long-term societal effect of the pandemic will be a grand flipping of the switch that makes the digital solution the first choice of many Americans for handling life’s tasks.
Lesson 6: Work Is Anywhere Now
Forced to work remotely since the onset of the pandemic, millions of workers learned they could be just as productive as they were at the office, thanks to videoconferencing, high-speed internet and other technologies.
We will always need nurses, police, roofers, machine operators, farmers and countless other workers to show up. But if you are among the people who are now able to work remotely, you may be able to live in a less expensive area than where your employer is based.
Lesson 7: Our Trust in One Another Has Frayed, but It Can Be Slowly Restored
Distrust breeds distrust, but hope isn’t lost for finding common ground, especially for older people.
Verify facts and then decide. Check reliable, balanced news sources (such as Reuters and the Associated Press) and unbiased fact-checking sites (such as PolitiFact) before clamping down on an opinion.
Perhaps most important, be open to changing conditions and viewpoints. We have to put our faith in other people to get through this together.
Lesson 8: Loneliness Hurts Health More Than We Thought
During the first five months of the pandemic, nursing home lockdowns intended to safeguard older and vulnerable adults with dementia contributed to the deaths of an additional 13,200 people compared with previous years, according to a shocking Washington Post investigation published last September. “People with dementia are dying,” the article notes, “not just from the virus but from the very strategy of isolation that’s supposed to protect them.”
Older adults with higher levels of empathy, compassion, decisiveness and self-reflection score lowest for loneliness. Research shows that many older adults have handled COVID psychologically better than younger adults. With age comes experience and wisdom.
Help yourself by helping others.
Lesson 9: Our Cities Won’t Ever Be the Same
Suddenly, crowds are the enemy, public buses and subways a health risk, packed office towers out of favor, and a roomy suburban home seems just where you want to be.
The office and business district will look different. Many workers have little interest in returning to a 9-to-5 life. For those who do make the commute, they may find cubicles replaced with more flexible workspaces focused on common areas, with ample outdoor seating space for meetings and working lunches. And some now-empty offices will likely be converted into apartments and condos, making downtowns more vibrant.
Public spaces will serve more of the public. Those areas set up for outdoor restaurant dining — some of those will likely remain.
We always can learn something from every situation, good or bad. Is up to us to get the best from it and grow. We need a storm to see the rainbow, we need some darkness to see the light. But for sure I can say that we don’t want another pandemic to understand and to appreciate what we have.
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