Blog Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging COVID-19

Reflection: COVID-19 exacerbates ageism in our society

by Danielle Friz, BSN Candidate, ’21, University of Missouri – St. Louis; participant Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program- Aging and Neurological Diseases Track

In a seminar led by Dr. Nancy Morrow-Howell, director of the Harvey A. Friedman Center for­­ Aging, I was very interested to learn about how ageism has played such a large role in the response to COVID-19. As the pandemic continues, our society has come to realize that our response to preparing for, managing, and eradicating COVID-19 have been grossly inadequate. Why is this? Some may argue that because the virus was initially thought to primarily affect older adults, there was a lack of urgency in addressing it.

Dr. Morrow-Howell spoke about the phenomenon that younger people are less motivated to prevent the spread of COVID-19 because they think older people are primarily at risk. In reality, evidence has shown that younger people are contracting the virus just as much, if not more, than older people. Reports from July 7, 2020, showed that the highest prevalence of COVID-19 cases in California was found in people aged 18-34. Further reports have shown that younger people, with and without chronic health conditions, have continued to suffer serious ongoing health consequences from COVID-19.

Due to the increased rates of COVID-19 in the community, other facets of ageism and other forms of discrimination are becoming more apparent throughout our society. Dr. Morrow-Howell spoke about how life-saving supplies, like ventilators, have been prioritized for younger people even if they are not expected to receive as much benefit as an older person would. To combat these ageist policies, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is now looking more closely at how to triage and treat patients based on factors besides age, such as acuity and quality of life measurements.

What I learned from Dr. Morrow-Howell’s seminar, along with everything else I have learned in this program, has fueled my interest in research and working in the medical field. In addition to what I have learned, the connections I’ve made and the opportunities I’ve had because of this program have proven to be invaluable. I look forward to participating in this program again next summer so that I may continue to build on my knowledge and experience to benefit the geriatric community.

This post is part of the Summer Research Program blog series at the Institute for Public Health. Subscribe to email updates or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.