As with all grandparents, we freely acknowledge that our grandchildren are the cutest, the brightest, the most precious, the most precocious . . . choose a positive descriptor and we have likely used it. That having been said, I found a dialogue between my son and our just 7 year-old-grandson to be so profound that I wanted to share it.
Here’s how it went:
My grandson: “They can’t keep things closed down forever.”
My son: “I don’t know what they can do, bud.”
My grandson: “Well, think, if they limit human interaction for years and years, there will be wars.”
My son: “Why’s that?”
My grandson: “Because we will forget each other’s ways.”
I sincerely hope that isolation will not lead to wars but I do believe that the impact of isolation is causing us to lose a great deal, especially when it comes to our older adults. As our elders who live in residential settings continue to be “locked down” as the rest of the world begins, slowly and carefully we hope, to open, the cost is truly great.
Every day we can see the damage that isolation does, and we are in settings where every effort is being made to keep people connected and engaged. But being in your room or apartment, with visitors either scheduled for brief outdoor times or connecting on a tablet screen, is just not enough. The hours are long and the days blur one into another in unrelieved sameness.
I know that the goal has been to keep elders safe. It is our goal all day, every day. But is it also our goal to ensure that people have quality of life and that means purpose, engagement, stimulation and activity. It means social interactions that are more a normal part of life and less a scheduled 20 minutes with your family, weather permitting.
Our COVID journey has been difficult and we all know that it is not at an end. But as we go forward, battling COVID or any other health challenge that lies ahead, we cannot—as individuals and as a nation—forget that our elders have rights and needs and must be respected and treated as adults. We stand to lose so much more if we forget that our elders have the ability to share their wisdom and knowledge. We stand to lose so much more if we forget that our elders are individuals and entitled to make and exercise their choices. The more that we disenfranchise our elders, the more we reinforce that message of ageism, that being old either means being a problem to be solved by others or that it renders you just plain invisible.
Out of the mouths of babes, truly, the more we isolate, the more we forget. And while I hope that war is not an outcome, there is a heavy price to pay, especially for our older adults. It’s a price that we as people and a country can ill afford.