Older people, particularly those with underlying health conditions, were initially thought to be more susceptible to COVID-19, but in many ways older people and retirees may be better equipped psychologically to cope with this very strange time we find ourselves in.
Older people have the experience of retirement to draw on. This required them to re-envision their lives. Also, they have a treasure trove of life experience.
The process of retirement, or even just stepping back from full-time to part-time work, requires an adjustment similar to that which many people will be experiencing as their working lives remain disrupted. Our usual routine and structures are gone. Weekdays and weekends blur.
Adjusting to the new structure of our weeks is only one of many things that we have to get used to. The structure in our everyday lives helps us, and society generally, to function. We rely on certain things like when we can go shopping or to visit our friends and family or out somewhere for entertainment. This predictability buttresses us psychologically. There is comfort in the world being as it seemingly should be, that we can rely on certain things. In the same way that we take for granted that the sun will rise each morning, we take for granted that certain routines will persist and amenities will be available and life will go on as usual.
It’s therefore a bit startling when, almost overnight, everything changes and many of the things we take for granted in life are no longer in place. This gives rise to uncertainty and unpredictability in our external world.
Whatever our age, we are seldom confronted with this concept of impermanence quite so baldly. It can be very challenging. After all, to live believing that life and many aspects of our daily lives are permanent enables us to live our lives in an orderly way and to make plans as though life is going to go on forever. If we lived ever conscious of the fact that we are one day going to die, incentive would dry up: what would be the point of planting that special garden or starting a new project in the garage?
During this time, older people who have negotiated significant changes, overcome difficulties and navigated their way through painful losses in life can be a comforting and stabilising influence for the younger generations of their communities and families. They may be able to offer words of reassurance to soothe and calm the young and excitable. The name of the threat is new but the knowledge of how to survive them is one of the gifts of age.