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The response to COVID-19 was ageist, experts say


The response to the COVID-19 pandemic was inherently ageist and ableist, or discriminatory against people with disabilities, according to Ashton Applewhite, founder of This Chair Rocks.

Initially, the messaging around the pandemic was that the only people who would be seriously impacted were the old and ill – another way to say people with disabilities, Applewhite said this week during a Patient Experience Digital Series webinar, Ageism in the Age of a Pandemic.

Were it known then that the young and healthy would also be impacted, the response and messaging around the pandemic would have been much different, Applewhite said.

“That is the lethal, measurable global impact of ageism and ableism,” she said. “Which means seeing older and disabled people as less valuable members of society.”


The healthcare system needs to confront ageism and ableism to become more effective, especially during times of stress such as the COVID-19 pandemic, is Applewhite’s message. Providers need to mirror back to patients the normalcy of growing older as they promote wellness at any age, so individuals can not only accept, but embrace their changing bodies

Although people aged 65 years and older make up more than 80{f08ff3a0ad7db12f5b424ba38f473ff67b97b420df338baa81683bbacd458fca} of deaths caused by COVID-19, younger adults make up the largest portion of cases. In total, people between 18 and 49 years old make up nearly 55{f08ff3a0ad7db12f5b424ba38f473ff67b97b420df338baa81683bbacd458fca} of COVID-19 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control on Prevention.

These figures have caused an outcry among geriatric experts begging young people to understand the part they play in the pandemic.

“Younger adults are not immune to this virus, and they share responsibility for its spread,” authors wrote in a report from Age and Ageing. “A lackadaisical attitude towards public health directives increases risk for everyone. Ultimately, COVID-19 is not a disease of older adults, and its effects will be felt by everyone. We all must do our part to curtail its spread.”


Another threat to older adults is the rising costs of healthcare. Specifically, during the COVID-19 pandemic, older adults without insurance could expect to pay more than $77,000 for a hospital stay, according to cost analysis data from FAIR Health.

The federal government has recognized the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on older adults and once a vaccine is authorized, they will be among the first prioritized group.

To help administer the vaccine, the Department of Health and Human Services partnered with CVS and Walgreens to provide and administer free COVID-19 vaccines to long-term care facilities across the country.

Additionally, HHS recently announced the second round of performance payments for nursing homes, worth $523 million, to be distributed to over 9,000 facilities. Qualifying nursing homes were recognized for successfully reducing COVID-19 related infections and deaths between September and October.


“We are not going to make the most out of these longer lives without confronting ageism and ableism in the world around us, starting between our ears,” Applewhite said. “Nor will we be as effective as these turbulent times demand. We have to accept and ideally embrace the bodies we were born with and the way they change over time.”

Twitter: @HackettMallory
Email the writer: [email protected]



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