Two things are true about the Wuhan coronavirus: It has forced most people into indoor isolation, and it is disproportionately lethal for elderly folks and people with preexisting adverse health conditions. But these two factors are not disconnected, and considering them together reveals older people may be struggling more with social distancing than millennials, Gen Zers, and even Gen Xers who are off having a field day with memes about quarantine stir-craziness and telework.
Elderly people are more likely to be widows and widowers, less likely to have roommates, and less likely to live with a nuclear family than younger people. Their regular social gatherings are likely canceled, be they church, bingo, luncheons, or any number of other meetups, except many of these folks lack the at-home camaraderie and online social group chats the rest of us possess to keep us sane.
But since older people are also particularly susceptible to bad coronavirus outcomes, they face greater pressure to stay home. While information from communist China is unreliable, the Chinese Center for Disease Control does reveal startling trends regarding the COVID-19 death rate among different age groups. The rate among those ages 10 to 39 is only .2 percent, while that number jumps to 3.6 percent among those ages 60 to 69, rises to 8 percent among those in their 70s, and skyrockets to nearly 15 percent for those 80 years old and up.
Considering people with the Wuhan virus are contagious before they begin displaying symptoms, it is prudent for younger people to distance themselves socially, taking special care to protect older people and others with compromised immune systems by keeping our distance.
During this time of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness, here are things younger people can do to help elderly people and lift their spirits without infecting them.
Give Them a Call
Check in with your grandparents, great grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, or church family shut-ins over the phone. Share a story, pray with them, ask them about their latest project, or just reminisce about old times. Calling an older person doesn’t need to take up much of your day, but it will probably make theirs.
Send Snail Mail
Remember stationery? Emails and phone calls are great, but a handwritten note is even better. Dropping a card or letter in the mail is a great way to cheer up the older or sick people in your life. Pretty cards can be hung on the refrigerator or placed on an end table as a visual reminder of your affection, and letters can be read and re-read when your friend or family member needs a little pick-me-up.
Ship a Care Package
When I was in college, there was no better feeling in the world than getting a care package from my parents. Chances were, I really needed the new toothbrush and tissue packs they threw inside — as much as I needed the morale boost only a handful of fun-size candy could supply. It served as a tangible reminder they were thinking of me, and it afforded me something I needed both physically and mentally. You could do the same for an elderly friend of yours. Of course, including some Purell or an extra roll of toilet paper isn’t a bad idea, but get creative too. Toss in some candy you know they like, encouraging Bible verse placards, a roll of yarn, batteries, funny socks, or packs of hot chocolate or tea. The lighter the items, the easier they will be to ship — or let them know you’ll drop it off on their front porch if you live locally.
Make a Grocery Delivery
As we all make final trips to the grocery store to round out our quarantine stock, be sure to check in on the elderly and infirm to see if they need anything while you’re out and about. Grabbing an extra bottle of Ibuprofen or carton of eggs will be no big deal for you, and you’ll save them a trip out into a densely populated area — or the worry of going without something they need.
Do Some Yard Work
Being outside is a great way to get your own social distance while also aiding those who may not be able to labor themselves. Depending on where in the country you reside, your older neighbors might need some general outdoor spring clean-up, raking or branch removal, fence painting, or even snow shoveling. When Netflix asks, “Are you still watching?” say no, and go lend a hand outside.
Bring Some Spring Indoors
What better way to brighten someone’s day than to deliver flowers? While many shut-ins aren’t able to get outside to enjoy the first signs of spring peeping through the otherwise naked and drab landscape, you can bring some spring to them. Grab a bouquet at the store on that final grocery run, or pick some yourself if you happen to have flowering plants. Front-porch deliveries work just as well for this. While you may not be able to sit across the table and share a cup of coffee with your grandmother, you can provide something for her to look at while she drinks hers.
Both young and old can get through coronavirus together even if we’re alone. What a marvelous opportunity to show someone how much you care.