As I recently reported, though older people have borne a higher burden of illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19, surveys over the last year are showing people aged 50 and over experience more positive emotions each day and fewer negative ones than other demographics during the pandemic.
In this run-up to the post-pandemic world ahead, it is important to note that not all behaviors and attitudes of older Americans have been positive. Despite the uptick in positive emotions, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that more than 6.5 million Americans aged 65 and older are currently dealing with depression on some level.
According to the website Aging in Place, the National Institute on Aging also adds that one factor can potentially increase depressive symptoms beyond the more common causes in older adults: isolation due to a lack of social interaction. It could be entirely possible that expressed feelings of positive emotions may be masking how some folks really feel. Aging in Place believes that many seniors are choosing to keep their sadness to themselves. “This is primarily out of fear of what their family and friends will think of them if they learn that the senior is feeling down,” they report. Based on findings, it is likely that the number of seniors struggling with depression will grow in the years ahead.
This speaks to another area of concern regarding seniors moving forward. Many are not seeking treatment for their depression. Worse yet, seniors in general are not seeking the medical treatments they need for potentially debilitating health conditions. According to Laurie Archbald-Pannone, an associate professor of geriatric medicine at the University of Virginia, older people continue to postpone seeing their doctors for standard clinical care for chronic medical conditions.
“When medical clinics reopened after initial shutdowns in the spring of 2020, many patients didn’t return,” writes Archbald-Pannone in The Conversation. “National surveys and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have shown that nearly a third, or about 32%, of U.S. adults reported delaying routine care because of the pandemic from March to July 2020. … While care for medical emergencies is critical, preventive care is also important to optimize health, especially among older adults.” It is why Archbald-Pannone is championing the idea of making 2021 “the year of preventive care.”
To that end, it is also important to get older adults out of their homes and into the great outdoors. I wrote in the past about the “blue zones” project. The term “blue zone” is a nonscientific name given to geographic regions where some of the world’s oldest people lead lives of exceptionally low rates of chronic disease and good health. The lifestyle similarities of these separate and disconnected zones have led to a health revival in this country in recent years.
A blue zones longevity hotspot is Okinawa, Japan, where groups of five or so young children are paired together for life in a social network called a “moai,” where, according to the blue zones website, they “meet for a common purpose.” “As their second family, they would meet regularly with their moai for both work and play and to pool resources. Some moais have lasted over 90 years!” says the blue zones website.
One of the goals is to get people out walking, especially seniors. In places such as Fort Worth, Texas, and southwest Florida, walking moai groups have been sprouting up over the past few years where people meet up weekly to walk and socialize.
This development can be seen as part of what many people are hoping will be a new post-pandemic normal, where spending time outdoors is the default. This shift to the outdoors is already well underway. According to a March report by NPR, we are seeing a global bike boom. “In the United States bike sales climbed 65% last year, and electric bike sales shot up 145%, despite shortages at many bike shops,” reports NPR’s Frank Morris.
“And that’s not just bikes,” says Morris. “Sales of golf equipment climbed 10%, in January camper sales were up almost 40% compared to January 2020, and boats are doing even better.”
If this shift toward outdoor recreation continues and more people begin to venture out, what they are likely to see are not only crowded trails but also what a mess we have made of things over the past year.
As Cronkite News, a division of Arizona PBS, recently reported, “Face masks, plastic bottles and bags — and feces, both dog and human — are some of the unsightly waste you could encounter these days while hiking in the red rocks of Sedona.”
As we venture farther out, people may begin to take a closer look at their neighborhoods and notice they look a little different — dirtier than they recall.
As Time magazine’s Alana Semuels points out, “Neighborhoods that had been relatively clean before the pandemic were now full of litter.”
“In Portland, Ore., the city picked up more garbage in 2020 than any other year on record: 3,000 tons, 50% more than the previous year,” she reports. “Requests to clean up trash and remove graffiti were up 300% over 2019. Norfolk, Va., is seeing ‘historic highs’ in litter and illegal dumping.”
According to data compiled by the nonprofit group Keep America Beautiful, there were 24 billion pieces of litter alongside highways and 26 billion pieces of litter in waterways in 2020. “Local governments are scrambling to deal with the increased litter with reduced budgets,” says Semuels.
“If you see a lot of trash strewn about, that makes you more likely to litter too,” says Robert Frank, a Cornell University economist. Please don’t.