Will we learn from our mistakes?
Open Letter by Luc Maurice, published in La Presse and several others newspapers.
Human beings are strange creatures. All too often, we only change when a crisis hits and our backs are against the wall. In this sense, I believe that the Covid-19 pandemic doesn’t have to be a tragic story only. It can be the catalyst that raises society’s awareness of the realities faced by seniors, the conditions at long-term care centres and the importance of family. Does the future look bright, all things considered?
Covid-19 has been extremely fatal against the elderly, especially the oldest and least independent members of society. While this is an undeniable tragedy, these lives do not have to be lost in vain. Nelson Mandela once said, “I never lose. I either win or learn.” Will we have the wisdom to identify the mistakes we made during the pandemic to ensure that we never repeat them again?
The current health crisis has demonstrated beyond any doubt that ageism still exists in our modern society. According to some gerontologists, it is the most tolerated form of discrimination in the world today. The pandemic has laid the problem bare for all to see. Why did we force an extreme, discriminatory and indefinite confinement regime on healthy seniors who live at residences? It would certainly have been more effective to rapidly put in place isolation procedures and stricter workplace policies for caregiver staff.
Unfortunately, we’re stuck in obsolete ways of thinking. We still equate old age with sickness even though 50% of people aged 80 and over are as lucid as you and I. Incidentally, I often interact with 90-year-olds whose energy and mental clarity are truly inspiring. We commit a serious error when we brush them all off as weak and vulnerable and deprive them of their right to expression and freedom. It amounts to denying their individuality. Unfortunately, senior citizens face this type of unacceptable treatment all too often in Western societies today.
In spite of the mistakes made by public health authorities and by all of us, I’d like to praise the current government on behalf of Quebec’s seniors for having the courage to listen to the recommendations of experts on aging and to use this situation as an opportunity to improve living conditions for seniors. I sincerely hope that the quality of care homes, the treatment of caregivers and the quality of healthcare services offered to seniors in Quebec will be rectified once and for all. Therefore, I’m thankful for this opportunity to create real change in the way we treat the older generations who have sacrificed so much for us.
The Covid-19 crisis has had a silver lining for some of our residents. It has helped couples come closer together and understand their children better and it has opened up new channels of communication between grandkids and grandparents. The crisis has made society relearn the importance of family. This is a victory whose positive impacts will be felt long after the crisis is over, no matter how long it lasts. That makes me very optimistic.
Finally, thanks to the courage of today’s seniors—who proved yet again that they can confidently get through a major crisis—and thanks to the new vision of our current government, I have hope that seniors will finally get access to the quality of services they deserve and live in communities that are compassionately designed with better aging in mind. We must not forget that we are all somebody’s elder. May we all live with dignity!