We all suffer when COVID-19 locks the elderly out of societal participation

“Keep people healthy to keep countries wealthy” laments David Sinclair, Director of the International Longevity Centre UK. According to the think-tank leader, we are chronically guilty of under-appreciating our elderly peers, and their importance to both society and the economy.

Elderly and essential

Aside from the our sentimental attachments and the expertise our betters might offer, Mr Sinclair states that 54p in every pound is spent by people aged 50 and over, with this group offering a potential GDP boost of 2% per year by 2040. Across the G20, he says, the picture is much the same.

That’s why he thinks it’s crucial that G20 Health and Finance Ministers meet on Thursday. He says that COVID-19 has shown us just how true the ‘health equals wealth’ adage is, with countries across the world being plunged into one of the hardest-hitting global recessions in memory.

The key to recovery, Mr Sinclair claims, is an appreciation not only of how important a role elderly citizens play in the modern world, but in turn an effort to better engage older workers, older consumers, older volunteers and older carers, who ‘contribute immensely’ to the global economy.

Our ageing population being locked out of normal life

Instead, Mr Sinclair states that:

“[…] during COVID-19, older people have been disproportionately locked out of working, spending, caring and volunteering. And we know that health is a key barrier to maximising the potential of an ageing society.”

“Our research has shown that across better off countries, in 2017 alone, 27.1 million years were lived with largely preventable age-related diseases, leading to more than $600 billion worth of lost productivity every year. In the UK alone, about a million people aged 50-64 are forced out of work as a result of health and care needs or caring responsibilities.”

“If we are to deliver a potential longevity dividend, in the post-pandemic recovery and beyond, we need to ensure we are supporting people to not just live longer, but also healthier lives and promoting preventative health interventions right across the life course.”

Change of mindset

This, Sinclair argues, means that we need to gear both our post-pandemic recovery and our future, ageing society, towards keeping people healthier for longer. He says the costs of failing to adapt to both the needs of our increasing, elderly populace, and ignoring their potential as productive and active participants in society and the economy, are ‘simply too high to ignore’.

So where does this leave us? Well, avoiding the divisive and played out old versus young blame game, any post-pandemic ‘new normal’ needs to find a way of protecting our elderly peers, while still engaging them in social and economic interactions. Some suggest that over time youngsters might return to some semblance of life before COVID, while the vulnerable remain shielded.

What we must avoid, however, is ‘shielded’ becoming synonymous with ‘excluded’. For those that cannot expose themselves to the general public, part of the solution might involve bringing the world to the elderly, via technology. With greater tech education and utilisation, our elderly peers will not only be able to socialise, but participate in non-physical work.

Though, while tech might enable our ageing population to have a more active role in future society, it should not be viewed as the panacea to our current predicament. Like it or not, keeping our elderly healthy and safe requires all of us being prudent and careful. This ought to take place as part of a wider mindset shift, from seeing our wiser peers not just as burdens, but as potentially invaluable assets that we have to look after.

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