The prospect of isolation and ‘social distancing’ for those over 70 is raising some major societal questions and consequences. In the coming days and weeks we will be exploring in more detail, some of the answers to the below questions:
– With greater longevity, those over 70 are not just one generation but sometimes two. There are many over 70 who are full time carers for their own elderly parents. How do we distinguish in our language and approach between the two?
– When we say ‘elderly’ we imply ‘frail’. This is sometimes the case but not always. How do we ensure people are protected without being patronized? What is the language we are best to use?
– The generation being asked to isolate are those who were children at a time of national rationing. They may understand frugality in straitened times far better than those in positions of leadership. How can we learn from them?
– Charity and church volunteers are overwhelmingly over the age of 70. Church councils or elders, children’s activities, cultural centres and community activities rely on the hours and energy of the retired. They will leave a big hole, when they are behind their front doors. Will this be the moment that the country realizes what an enormous contribution they make, often unnoticed?
– Digital poverty and digital denial could become critical for people’s care. Some people don’t have access to the internet due to remote location or cost. Others simply don’t want it in their homes, don’t want to learn how to use digital tools, and don’t want to be connected over social media. These may be the people most likely to be cut off and forgotten at this time; those who don’t want to phone a mobile number, only a landline. The government is encouraging people to use websites rather than call. Neighbourhood WhatsApp support groups require a “smart” phone. What are the digital tools which could work to close this gap, and how can we teach people to use them?
– How can church leaders respond to needs, especially of the older and self-isolating, where church meetings are now cancelled? Some churches are discouraging pastoral visits, others are encouraging them. The different levels of risk for different generations mean we can hurt people’s feelings, make them feel unwanted, while actually trying to protect them. We need God’s wisdom in how we communicate at this time.
– It is encouraging that the impact of isolation on mental health is now being openly discussed. Churches will need literacy in this whole area, and ways of guiding not just towards physical and mental wellness, but spiritual wellness too. As the ‘ Digital Nun’ Sister Catherine Wybourne has written, there is much we can learn from the Benedictines about some of this.
In all things, we can only place our hope in the One who knows all things, trusting Him for each step. As Proverbs 3:5-6 says, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight’.