The horrors of 2020 are legion and affecting everyone to one degree or another. Kids are denied the ritual of the new school year. Their college-age siblings can’t gather or network and are therefore missing the real purpose of higher education. Parents, meanwhile, are now in-house IT consultants who work from home when not helping their own children learn on a platform they didn’t know existed when the year began.

But the year’s multiple calamities are perhaps most deadly for the nation’s elderly who are often forced to go it alone in an increasingly cruel world.

First, of course, there is the coronavirus, which is most deadly for those over the age of 65. They are nearly four times more likely to be hospitalized if they contract the disease than patients in their 30s. Eight out of 10 COVID-19 deaths reported in the United States have been adults age 65 or above.

As a result, all prudent older Americans are taking every precaution to avoid the virus. That means many are quarantining alone. Many older people lack the internet savvy or the technology to make the most of virtual gatherings. Many are skipping medical appointments, avoiding family and isolating in a way that is itself a risk factor for older people.

Then there is the danger of wildfire. Fifty-three of the 85 people who died in the Camp Fire were senior citizens. That is not a surprise. The nonprofit Direct Relief recently mapped out California towns most at risk of devastating wildfire and it’s based in part on the percentage of retirees in each place. Cities as disparate as Malibu and Dunsmuir scored high risk partly because of predictable trouble evacuating older residents.

Older people suffer more from rolling blackouts and planned power outages, too. They are often less able to simply go some-place cooler or relocate to an air-conditioned room. Many require power for medical devices like CPAP machines.

Now add the potential for postal service failure. Older Americans particularly need reliable service for delivery of household goods when it’s unsafe to head to the local big-box retailer, for prescription medications, for Social Security benefits, and on and on.

There are still cultures that revere their older members of the society, though it is increasingly clear we are not among them. By some estimates, as many as 7.2 million people over the age of 65 live in poverty in this country. California is one of nine states with at least 15 percent of its over-65 population defined as poor using the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure.

Meanwhile, the services our senior citizens rely on are under assault. In an attempt to rectify a budget that had lost its balance amid a pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced cuts to In-Home Supportive Services, which provides caregiver support to 625,000 residents. The budget also gutted community-based adult services like the Coastside Adult Day Health Center, and slashed another program that helped seniors make their homes more livable by providing grab bars and other essentials.

They say you can tell a society by the way it treats its most vulnerable people. What will historians say about the way we are treating our parents and grandparents these days?

Clay Lambert

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