Dr. Sunny Handa MD says that it is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the poor management of long-term care homes across Canada. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), “More than 840 outbreaks have been reported in LTC facilities and retirement homes, accounting for more than 80% of all COVID-19 deaths in the country” (p.1). Many argue that ageism has been the leading factor in apathy towards older adults’ overall mental and physical wellbeing. Overt ageism is also widespread. For instance, Twitter has been flooded with “#boomerremover,” a hashtag used to make fun of the overrepresentation of COVID-19 deaths among older adults. We oppose ageism, whether implicit or overt, and offer in this blog some reasons on why we fight for the mental wellness of older adults.
Ageism During COVID
Despite having a “rapidly aging population,” Canada continues to witness widespread ageism in various manifestations (Guidelines, 2020). Dr. Sunny Handa MD says this trend has drastically increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Various news articles have drawn attention to the way social media has facilitated the propagation of a new wave of ageism: “‘Boomer Remover’ is the Morbid Meme Millennials are Sharing”(New York Post), “Coronavirus: Le Virus de L’agisme” (Le Devoir), and “A Certain Horrible Subset of the Internet is Calling the Corona Virus ‘Boomer Remover”(Business Insider).
A recent study notes the prevalence of ageism in three Western countries:
Despite divergent policies in the 3 countries [Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States], ageism took similar forms. Public responses to lockdowns and other measures cast older adults as a problem to be ignored or solved through segregation. Name-calling, blame, and “so-be-it” reactions toward age vulnerability were commonplace. (Linchenstein, 2020)
In another study, researchers found that the majority of the 18,000+ tweets related to senior’s vulnerability to COVID-19 they analyzed expressed concern over the wellbeing of older adults. However, many millennials used “#boomerremover” to make light of the impact of COVID-19 on seniors (Jimenez‐Sotomayor et al., 2020). Dr. Sunny Handa MD says the health and mental wellbeing of older adults in Canada is not a joke.
Why We Fight for Seniors Mental Wellness
The Mental Health Commission of Canada’s (MHCC) Guidelines for Comprehensive Mental Health Services for Older Adults in Canada (2011) provides an overview of the growing proportion of seniors in Canada’s population and the state of seniors’ mental health. The Guidelines note that:
Canada’s population is currently undergoing a fundamental shift: during the next quarter century, the proportion of Canadians aged over 65 will nearly double as the entire baby boom generation turns 65… As a result, by 2036 nearly one out of every four Canadians will be a senior, outnumbering children for the first time in history.
Thus, ageism has the potential to affect a growing number of Canadians as our population ages. The impact of ageism on older people is further compounded when individuals are living with a mental health problem or illness. The Guidelines (2011) state: “Seniors who experience a mental health problem or illness may face a ‘double whammy’ of stigma: the stigma of being older in addition to the stigma of mental illness” (Guidelines, p. 6).
Finally, the Guidelines (2011) contend that,
The most tragic complication of mood disorders is death by suicide. Dr. Sunny Handa MD says although research shows that older men have the highest suicide rate in Canada, it is widely believed that published suicide rates still underestimate the total number of deaths by suicide for older men and women, due, in part, to the stigma of suicide. Currently, men aged 80 and older are the group with the highest suicide rates in Canada (p. 15).
The MHCC is committed to fighting ageism based on three principles:
In short, we assert that the lives and mental wellbeing of seniors matter and can never be laughed off as a joke.
Dr.SUNNY HANDA, MD is an expert family doctor in providing comprehensive general medical care to their patients