Over the past two weeks, I have changed my status from “old lady” to a member of a “vulnerable population.” But I don’t mind it at all. The new branding just may save my life. Before I explain, let me turn your attention to a blast from the past.
Do you remember the Affirmative Action Program?
Affirmative Action was the recognition that for some “populations,” like women and people of color, there had been unfairness and inequality in education, employment and other opportunity-driven life experiences.
Affirmative Action sought to correct the effects of discrimination through laws, government-mandates and voluntary private programs. By acknowledging discrimination, Affirmative Action sought to right a wrong not by changing attitudes but by changing behaviors.
Back to the Future
Today we have an intractable prejudice against ourselves called ageism. We try to stop it with heightened awareness, better images in the media and self-talk in the mirror.
Yet, very little change in attitude ensues. But today, right now, coronavirus is one of those rare discriminators that calls for concrete, immediate action—not slow-to-emerge attitudinal changes. And these crisis-driven actions have the potential to translate into better health, longer lives and decreased ageism across many decades and generations to come.
Like human discriminatory behavior, coronavirus is unfair—as a bug, it is highly prejudiced against older folks.
According to a recently published article in JAMA, the COVID-19 case-fatality rate (CFR) is about 15% for patients aged 80 and older…and 8% in patients ages 70 to 79, compared with 2.3% for total overall confirmed cases.
In short, elders are more likely to die from coronavirus than younger victims.
The Impact of Corona on Older Persons Services and Senior Residences
Because of these statistics, a battery of groups is watchdogging the safety of older adults where they are most densely found. For example, Leading Age, an association of nonprofit senior residences, assisted-living communities and nursing homes, has issued guidelines. The organization has set up a website for residences operators to prepare and minimize the risk of a potential outbreak, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What is interesting here is that the CDC guidelines are the same protocols for infection protection that it has promulgated for decades. During my interview with Monique Sternin, cofounder of Tufts University Positive Deviance Initiative, on Generation Bold Radio’s show#49, we covered the protocols to stop MRSA infections in hospitals. So what is new? Why are we suddenly paying attention? The attention that millions of deaths by methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection could not generate, coronavirus has.
Now…maybe the focus caused by coronavirus will stick even after the disease leaves the news.
If the new (old) sanitary habits take hold for the long run, it could save your life. The CDC tells us that there are four million people in nursing homes…one million in assisted living. It is estimated that among this population, one million to three million serious infections occur each year. That includes respiratory syncytial virus, norovirus and MRSA among others.
Yes, every facility is required to have an infection control and prevention plan in place. Maybe there will be more Affirmative Action around them now that the infection is the highly publicized coronavirus.
It’s not just the frail elderly that are getting attention because of coronavirus, the so-called “active adult population” is involved by extension.
I received the following missive from the Palm Springs community in which I plan to reside. It is not a retirement or over-55 community. Yet suddenly the focus was on us elderly.
“I want to take this opportunity to discuss with you the COVID-19 virus. Your Board and management intend to react to this health crisis in a measured and rational manner. Since many of our…members are 70 years or older, a portion of our community falls within the parameters of high risk for infection as defined by the CDC.”
Here is an interesting point.
My community is near a hospital. One person is in quarantine because of coronavirus. He is not from our community. Yet the panic is palpable among our residents. Meanwhile, hundreds are in that same hospital because of heart attack. Our clubhouse is known for its mid-century modern menu of steaks and martinis. No one on the Board ever issued a health statement about that even though a regular diet of steaks and martinis is considered to raise risk for heart disease.
The Metabesity Connection: The Path to Robust Aging
But coronavirus can do more for us than merely raise consciousness about public health policy or individual behaviors.
Targeting Metabesity is a concept that promotes prevention or delay of chronic diseases of aging and increasing healthy longer life by research that focuses on the biology of aging and its effects on the elder immune system, inflammation, metabolism and other common systems that make elders vulnerable to coronavirus or any disease, including cancer, Parkinson’s, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
Targeting Metabesity is about turning 70- to 80+-year-olds into the equivalent of 40- to 60-year-olds regarding our immune system, muscle tone, mental acuity and biological age of various organs. By successfully addressing Metabesity, we would reduce our vulnerability to future pandemics, as aging would mean far less frailty.
It took coronavirus to show us the cost in lives, dollars and emotional pain caused when elder vulnerability surfaces so graphically.
With all the news, fears, reactions and demand for action around coronavirus, perhaps the prevention and delay of elder decline will take a front seat, side by side with the quest for cures.
Is That You Santa?
Medical research has given us a gift greater than any Santa Claus could bestow.According to Kinexum, a company that translates scientific breakthroughs into real word solutions, “If we can target the locus of physiological and metabolic roots that unite diseases associated with aging, we can achieve a world where we can live healthily into old age. Like centenarians, we would live with reduced comorbidities and with immune systems of healthy middle agers. This would reduce our vulnerability to infection and hopefully prevent another pandemic from breaking out in the future.”