Shared from the 4/8/2020 Colo Spgs Gazette eEdition

Aging expert on ways to help out the seniors in your life


Sara Honn Qualls, professor at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Sara Honn Qualls serves as Kraemer Family Studies Professor of Aging Studies at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Her job calls on her to ponder the complexity of aging in the United States.

It’s never been more complex.

Coronavirus forces us to consider differences between youthful and not-so-youthful. And here’s the crucial difference in April 2020: The older you are, the more coronavirus threatens you.

“We’re really caught,” Sara says. “In my gut, it feels like an ethics dilemma. I have a responsibility to do no harm and I have two ways of doing harm.”

She can harm the elderly by leaving them “socially isolated.” Or she can harm by “exposing” the elderly to coronavirus.

Sara has carefully read the stay-at-home order by Gov. Jared Polis. Family loneliness is not an exception to the order.

“It removes the ethical bind,” she says of the order, “but it doesn’t remove the problem.”

Coronavirus inspires the nonelderly to think more of the elderly, but Sara worries if we will fall into “enhanced ageism.” She worries many Americans will see the elderly as “a drain” and “a problem” and one big “risk factor” while overlooking their diversity.

Yes, many elderly are fragile. But, Sara says, many are not.

Better to think in terms of service, but it’s challenging to find ways to ease the social isolation of the elderly. Sara suggests gently pushing elderly friends to better understand the social possibilities of technology. With Zoom and FaceTime and other tech boosts, the elderly can be blessed with face-to-face conversations with their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and friends.

With a little help, a socially isolated senior can escape to a bigger, better social realm.

Here’s an example:

Sara’s father, Loren, 96, lives in a senior facility in Illinois. Loren recently asked his son Stan to help him stream worship service from Urbana Church of Christ. Lorn has faithfully attended the Urbana congregation several times a week for nearly 50 years.

Stan eagerly agreed to help his father, but it wasn’t easy. Stan owns a Mac. Loren owns a traditional PC. Stan is tech-savvy. Loren is not. Finally, after hours of labor by phone and further help from an Illinois friend, Loren joined in worship service via video.

Loren felt less alone, and Stan felt less helpless to aid his secluded father.

“We need to adapt to phone and other technology for awhile,” Sara says.

I know what some of you are thinking.

I don’t want to adapt to phone and other technology today or any day.

I know because I’m a tech skeptic. My three children live, for reasons that baffle me, in the foreign land known as Texas. We talk often by phone, but never added video to our conversations. For me, seeing my children while talking on the phone adds an uncomfortable almost to the conversation.

We’re almost together, but it’s only almost. For me, video would only add ache to our talks.

Sara encourages me — and you — to venture profitably and boldly into new tech destinations.

“One thing this crisis is doing is helping us explore a lot of tech we weren’t comfortable with,” she says. “It might help you cross a digital divide you haven’t crossed yet.”

During the stay-at-home order, Sara finds herself surprised and encouraged by the depth of video conferences or video phone calls.

She wishes she were sitting in her office talking with students literally face to face, but the video works as a substitute. Not as well, but almost as well.

“I’m intersecting with students in ways never thought I would before this crisis,” she says.

In video conferences, she can see the strain of a student struggling to understand a concept. She pays closer attention to voice tone.

Even as she looks forward to a return to normal, she marvels at what is possible in our time of crisis.

Don’t surrender to helplessness, she says. Reach out to a senior citizen in your life.

See this article in the e-Edition Here