Fulfilled living in later life
Ageism challenged in the coronavirus crisis

Monday 11th May 2020

Ageism challenged in the coronavirus crisis

Louise Morse

Something positive coming out of the coronavirus crisis is the challenge to negative attitudes towards older people. It started with firm rebuttals by social commentators and medics to the suggestion that, with NHS resources under pressure, a triage system for intensive care would exclude people over the age of 70, despite NICE guidelines and statements from the NHS to the contrary. Then came stories of older people surviving Covid, some in their 90s and 100s, to the joy of their medical teams. 'This is the sort of thing the media should be concentrating on,’ wrote a man who posted his mother story (she is 86) on social media. He added, ‘there is hope, people!'. Read more.

Leading the anti-ageism charge is former Today newsman, John Humphrys. In his Saturday newspaper column he railed against the talk of keeping all over 70s in lockdown as the rest of the country is allowed out, on the basis that over-70s must be shielded as they are vulnerable, which he decries as an absurd generalisation. ‘How can it be acceptable to write off huge swathes of the population on the basis of age? That is not policy: it’s discrimination,’ he said. There are huge variations in the generations aged over 70, with many in better health than some in their 40s. John Humphrys keeps himself fit with exercise and an ‘ascetic lifestyle’. (Mail on Saturday, April 25, 2020).

Perhaps the loudest rustling in the treetops comes from acerbic TV journalist, Jeremy Paxman (known as Paxo in the media). Many remember his comments in the run-up to the Brexit election, where he said older people shouldn’t be allowed to vote because they didn’t have the intellectual capacity, that they were just ‘mouldering’ in their bungalows and that it was disgraceful that an older person’s vote carried the same weight as a Cambridge professor’s. Maybe the fact that he will be 70 this month has knocked the stuffing out of his argument. Now he says that ‘we need to rework how we talk about ageing’. He added that as society gets wealthier and more comfortable, the elderly are treated with contempt, rather than the respect they should receive. ‘The other day I heard someone justify the coronavirus on the grounds it will thin out the ranks of the elderly,' he said, adding that ‘ageing is as ineluctable as gender.’