An unexpected phone call from a long-lost friend the other day reminded me again that things could be worse. No, she wasn’t reporting the death of a loved one or the loss of a job or the mysterious onslaught of viral symptoms — misfortunes against which I could compare my own good fortune. She was simply noting how sheltering in place these past few months had freed her introspective self from social obligations and allowed her to embrace a family-history project she’d been neglecting since her pre-pandemic retirement. “I’m just loving this,” she confessed.
My Lovely Wife and I could certainly relate. And those sentiments generally echo the opinions of most of my geezer acquaintances, who for the most part seem to be little bothered by the specter of COVID-19. This despite the fact that the virus clearly has it in for us: About 80 percent of its victims are plucked from the Medicare set.
Those of you who lose sleep at night while calculating the odds that the government will cover the inevitable cost of a respirator may question this conclusion, but the results of a pair of studies published last week also suggest a more upbeat mindset among the elderly is surprisingly common.
A University of Georgia survey found that nearly three in four study participants 71 and older reported little or no stress during the early phase of the pandemic (March 30 to April 12). About 40 percent of the respondents between the ages of 60 and 70, on the other hand, said they felt at least moderately anxious.
Life during the COVID-19 scare, gerontologist Kerstin Emerson, PhD, noted in a statement, was no more stressful for the older group than living through times of war. Those life experiences, Emerson surmised, equip the elderly with coping mechanisms that are seeing them through the pandemic. “We don’t often give them credit for [this], but that’s part of their wisdom,” she explained. “We can really turn to older adults as examples of how to manage and live through bad periods in history.”
University of British Columbia researchers, meanwhile, discovered the seniors they polled were much less stressed by the pandemic than their younger counterparts. As lead study author Patrick Klaiber, MSc, put it, “Older adults are emotionally resilient despite public discourse often portraying their vulnerability” while younger and middle-age adults “are at a greater risk for loneliness and psychological distress.”
If my own observations are to be trusted, this pretty much rings true. I know young people who are scrambling to balance work and home life — especially when there’s parenting involved — while lamenting the loss of the social gatherings they once relied upon as stress-release valves.
And though there’s plenty of evidence that loneliness has reached epidemic proportions among seniors, most of my geezer compatriots are getting out about as much as they’d prefer under normal circumstances. (Though a recent University of Edinburgh study suggests seniors are slower to comply with public-health precautions when they are out and about.) MLW and I, for instance, have always been more than happy to avoid any social obligation, so we appreciate that a plausible excuse is now readily available. If you want to call that a sign of emotional resilience, I’ll take that as a compliment.
I enjoyed a rather extended chat with my unexpected caller before realizing that MLW probably wouldn’t mind catching up with her. It had been a while since they’d seen each other. I handed her the phone and retreated to my upstairs office. When I returned later to retrieve my phone, we compared notes and briefly found ourselves contemplating the unthinkable.
“We should do a Zoom happy hour or something with her,” MLW ventured.
“Um, sure,” I replied.
“Well,” she paused after a moment. I could sense the wheels were turning. “Maybe someday.”