A blog entry by Matthew Lariviere,
UKRI Innovation Fellow on Ageing, Care and Technology, CIRCLE
British Society of Gerontology calls on Government to reject policy responses
to COVID-19 based only on chronological age.
The British Society of Gerontology (BSG) has urged the UK Government to reject the use of chronological age in policy on the COVID-19 crisis. Voicing its additional concern about growing age divisions in society, the BSG has called on government and the media to take care in use of language.
Professor Thomas Scharf, President of BSG, introducing a detailed statement on COVID-19 prepared by the Society’s National Executive Committee (NEC), argues it is vital to foster generational and societal cohesion during the pandemic.
As a CIRCLE researcher and BSG NEC member, I am really concerned that Government policy on self-isolation could exacerbate loneliness, already a worrying issue. The BSG recognises the need for Government to control and delay spread of COVID-19, but wants to ensure that self-isolation and other policies don’t “exacerbate loneliness and diminish wellbeing”. The Society feels an “arbitrary cut-off” age (70) should not be how Government decides who we can be intimate and social with in our everyday lives. Rather, it claims, “we need robust, evidence-informed policies using high-quality research to drive the agenda during this pandemic.”
The BSG statement urges Government to take the following points, summarised here, into account:
It is wrong to regard all people aged 70+ as vulnerable, a burden, or a risk to others. Many are fit, well, and play an active role in society – continuing in paid work, running businesses, volunteering, participating in civil society and cultural life, and caring for family members.
Health conditions that are risks for coronavirus are found in all age groups; and many older people have no underlying health conditions.
Messaging on how to avoid catching and spreading coronavirus should apply to all. Arbitrary age thresholds pose dangers for those below and above.
Age-based messaging risks pitting young against old. It may lead younger people to discriminate against the old, or to take risks with their own health.
Government guidance on keeping physically and mentally well while apart from others will only be effective if the message is not divisive around age.
Loneliness and isolation affects people of all ages. The crisis is an opportunity to bring people and generations together, and to bridge digital divides
Living alone affects all age groups. Clear policies that support all who live alone are vital.
Family and friends are in the front line of society’s response to the pandemic and must be acknowledged and treated as such.
People must be able to connect with loved ones living in care settings. Denying people the chance to see friends and relatives is a drastic curtailment of human rights and needs
Common sense is needed about self-isolation. Socially isolating in a large house with a good internet connection and steady income is quite unlike doing so in a tiny flat, without internet and in financial stress. Online deliveries are not an option for many and becoming hard to obtain. The exercise, mobility and human contact so vital for healthy ageing must be encouraged.
Policy and practice should be attuned to the diversity of older people. Policy measures must not reinforce the view that everyone over 70 shares one set of characteristics.
We need also to think about death, and to have realistic and emotionally supportive arrangements for attending funerals, and coping with grief.
Society must support clinicians taking hard decisions about rationing life-saving resources. These should be made on grounds of clinical need; to do so on age alone is unethical and fundamentally wrong.
Dr Matthew Lariviere
The full BSG statement can be accessed here.
About the British Society of Gerontology
The British Society of Gerontology is the learned society representing gerontologists in the United Kingdom. It provides a multidisciplinary forum for researchers and other individuals interested in the situations of older people, and in how knowledge about ageing and later life can be enhanced and improved.
Professor Thomas Scharf, President of the British Society of Gerontology and Professor of Social Gerontology, Newcastle University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr Matthew Lariviere, Incoming Chair of BSG Emergent Researchers in Ageing and UKRI Innovation Fellow of Ageing, Care and Technology, University of Sheffield. Email: email@example.com.