COVID-19 hit the elderly so hard a French doctor said they were “being extinguished like candles,” but the old have traditionally been revered in Greece, where grandparents regularly walk grandchildren to school and are an integral part of the family life.
Dr. Sotiris Tsiodras, the University of Athens professor and infectious diseases expert tapped by the New Democracy government to head a scientific panel giving advice that brought a lockdown that saved lives, especially the elderly, gave them a nod for their value.
“The miracle of medicine in 2020 is that it has lengthened the lives of these people, many of whom are our mothers and fathers, our grandmothers and grandfathers. My response is that we honor, respect, and protect everyone, but these people first and foremost. Without them, we do not exist, we have no identity,” he said.
That was picked up on by Peter Kaldes, President and CEO of the American Society on Aging, who wrote on the site The Hill of how the United States could learn from Greece – which had one of the best records in the world in dealing with the pandemic – on how to treat and value the old.
He noted how his mother turned 70, an especially vulnerable age for the virus, but this year because of lockdowns her birthday was celebrated virtually with air kisses and faraway hugs instead of an embrace or caress in person.
His family was, he said, well-equipped to handle the lockdown but that he was saddened that “America is not well-equipped to handle her should she get COVID-19,” because of ventilator and equipment shortages and President Donald Trump satisfied with the numbers of deaths and cases.
There are more than 50 million adults older than age 65, a high-risk category, made higher if they have underlying conditions, especially in the respiratory system, where COVID-19 chokes the life out of victims.
It’s not difficult to see how COVID-19 could kill nearly a third of the U.S. population over age 65 he wrote as it was raging at its worst, blaming American leaders for not preparing and failing to deal with the pandemic.
Had Americans valued the years in our age as we do the dollars in our bank accounts, would we have been better prepared? He asked – and answered.
“Just look at Greece. Despite global ridicule for decades of poor economic management, it has so far prevented catastrophe, while having one of the highest populations of older adults in Europe,” he said.
“In Greek society, elders and good health are equally valued. Happy Birthday wishes include “may you live to be 100,” and every meal begins with “to your health,” and it's meant, not an empty gesture.
“America could learn a lot from our Greek friends. Perhaps if we prioritized older adults and welcomed their knowledge, experience and wise counsel in times of crisis (after all, many of them survived wars and economic and social disruptions), we would value them instead of sacrificing them to our need to get on with life,” he said.
“Now is the time to safely reach out to older adults with offers to shop and help in other ways. Instead of embracing exclusion criteria that discount elders first, how about we practice social distancing for another month and keep older adults out of the hospital in the first place?”
He finished: “My mother’s name is Zoi, which means life in Greek – a fitting name because she values life. Our country needs to do more to value hers.”