For many, if not most, of us and/or our family and friends “of a certain age,” it is often difficult to remember what day or month it is. And that is not because we and they are growing forgetful necessarily. It has more to do with the impact of isolation – the quarantine into which seniors were directed months ago in order to protect their health and safety. Most clients of congregate nutrition programs as a group were deemed vulnerable based on age, regardless of health and fitness. And most complied willingly with that enforced solitude, even though it denied them the regular contact with friends and family they need to thrive. We know it has been difficult every day, but with Hanukkah here, Christmas just around the corner and the New Year close behind, the sense of isolation and the near hopelessness that accompany it has grown more intense for many.
Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, large numbers of our elders have doubtless come to believe that the old saying “out of sight, out of mind” described their condition. It felt like the quarantine designed to protect them instead made them invisible. They weren’t seen and they weren’t valued. But today, with the COVID vaccine being distributed and administered across the country, the very opposite is being demonstrated. While on the one hand folks 65 and older are being reminded of the “vulnerability” that age brings, they and we can also see the respect being demonstrated by virtue of the priority being given them in terms of access to the vaccine. As the news has broadcast widely, after essential personnel like health care workers and residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities, the older population at large will be next in line.
It was just three months ago, in a September blog post, that we described what were merely recommendations made by an expert panel as to the order in which individuals should be inoculated. In other words, at that time it was all just a suggestion and a hope. Today those recommendations have become reality. With them, the importance our nation places on its older citizens is being concretely affirmed. In our minds, this decision is as much about conferring dignity as it is about recognizing vulnerability.
We know a vaccine is not a remedy for isolation. Nor, of course, does a dose of medicine diminish the grief that we all feel having lost more than 300,000 of our fellow Americans. Nothing can. But it is a turning point. It unlocks the way to hope – hope for a future when the pandemic is part of our shared history and all sorts of doors can open widely again. Our hunch is that congregate nutrition programs in communities large and small across this nation will be among them right there welcoming their senior neighbors back in.