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COVID-19’s Devastating Impact on Senior Citizens Should Not Be Understated

Disease and isolation have caused elderly residents to struggle to find reasons to keep going, but young people still can help in crucial ways.

Philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti once said, “No one can live without relationship. You may withdraw into the mountains, become a monk… but you are related. You cannot escape from that absolute fact. You cannot exist in isolation.” 

One of the greatest uniting forces is tragedy. It has been 11 months since the COVID-19 lockdown first started, and along the way, there have been over 500,000 deaths in the US alone. The pandemic has taken away not only these lives, but for many, the things worth living for. 

In order to overcome this immense tribulation, it is crucial to go through the world as if you are the “weakest” link in society. Older people are at high risk for contracting the virus, usually with the most devastating consequences, yet are so often cast aside in the minds of younger generations. 

Julie Segedy, Bay area resident and senior citizen, explained the ways the isolation accompanying COVID-19 has impacted her mental health. “I sleep late because there is no particular reason to get up, and I go to bed early because there’s no particular reason to stay awake,” explained Segedy. 

The fear of COVID-19 doesn’t necessarily come from the facts one is aware of, but the suffocating unknown. This fear is amplified for those at higher risk of contraction. “It’s like someone’s always following you in the shadow. You keep looking over your shoulder, but you can’t discern the degree of the threat, and still you cannot be without that constant lingering fear,” said Segedy. 

What if that fear is realized? Bay Area senior citizen Linda Blachman said she took every precaution, whether that meant having her groceries delivered or preparing a hospital bag and a folder of paperwork ready to go at any given moment. However, Blachman still tested positive for COVID-19, and is in her sixth week of battling the virus.

“I immediately… looked at the last few weeks and contacts I had…. Since the lockdown on December 7, I had not seen any of my friends, I had not seen my family, I had not gone into a grocery store, but I had gone into a number of medical appointments,” said Blachman. 

Blachman said that her acupuncturist helped her through the initial critical 12 days of the virus. “She called me every single day,” Blachman recalled. 

Blachman explained that there aren’t many resources available to COVID-19 victims, so when her acupuncturist was able to provide her with relief and treatment, she was grateful. 

One organization committed to helping senior citizens through this crisis is HelpBerkeley. Affordable, easily accessible meal delivery is difficult to come by, and HelpBerkeley is a critical resource for vulnerable groups – especially older members of the community. 

The organization was started in late February of 2020, but didn’t gain traction until early April. Michel Thouati, parent of a Berkeley High School (BHS) student, is the founder. HelpBerkeley has certainly provided for the community, serving over 900 customers in Berkeley, Kensington, and Albany. Its website has a sign up sheet and menu for their “consumers.” Through HelpBerkeley, qualified “consumers” can receive two meals for ten dollars from any restaurant the organization currently partners with. These meals are dropped off, free of charge, at seniors’ homes. This service is made possible by the many volunteers working day in and day out. 

Younger people can support their older community members in a number of ways, one of which is by volunteering at a vaccination station. The vaccine rollout has been a huge stressor for many people, especially those who have a hard time with the internet. 

David Levine is a part time professor at the University of California (UC) Hastings College of Law. Levine explained his concerns for fellow older folks, “For some people, navigating these [vaccination] websites, making phone calls, making appointments, is a bit of a pain in the neck.” 

However, young people can easily simplify this process for older residents. “That’s something where younger people could be extraordinarily helpful. You could be on the phone with somebody, you could fill in the information for somebody – or whatever they need,” said Levine.

Tech support phone calls are a safe way to assist those in need, but volunteers are unfortunately somewhat sparse. “As these clinics are expanding, there’s a lot of other volunteer opportunities as well,” said Levine. Capable young people can aid not only in signing seniors up for vaccination appointments, but also in doing every job that isn’t inserting the needle. These roles are crucial to paving the path towards better resources for the elderly during the pandemic. 

The relationships between community members have been both tried and fortified immensely by COVID-19. This relationship is one that must be continuously nourished and, in order to do so, young people must support those who need it most. It’s time that senior citizens in need become more than an afterthought.

Update: this article was updated for clarity.

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