It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a global effect on every aspect of human life, but according to this article by Steven Reinberg at HealthDay, the coronavirus is also to blame for a historic drop in length and quality of life in the United States, the first drop on such a scale since World War II.
Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have confirmed that the life expectancy in the U.S. has fallen by a year and a half. According to Reinberg, “That’s the lowest level of life expectancy since 2003 and the largest one-year decline since World War II.”
“A Very Serious Event”
A loss of a year and a half may not sound like a lot, but demographer and lead study author at the CDC, Elizabeth Arias, states, “This is a very large decline and what that means is that our population is really greatly affected.”
Arias also called this decline, “a very serious event.”
In specific terms, overall life expectancy dropped from around 79 years old in 2019 down to 77 in 2020, and the drop was also noticeable along gender lines. The life expectancy gap between men and women grew to nearly six years during the pandemic, following an obvious narrowing early in the century to roughly five years.
COVID-19 Deaths Played a Key Role
The study’s findings showed that deaths from COVID-19 made up a whopping 74percent of the life expectancy decline, while the rest were accounted for by accidents, unintentional injuries, overdoses from drug use, murders, and degenerative ailments like diabetes and liver disease.
It’s interesting to note that overdose deaths reached an all-time high in 2020. According to the NCHS, there were more than 93,000 that year. This is a serious issue for seniors who continue to face the risk of opioid addiction.
The CDC expects that the pandemic will continue to have far-reaching effects that may be currently unseen, and that the life expectancy decline will likely continue as long as COVID-19 is active. Thanks to missed check-ups and delayed appointments—common during the pandemic—certain diseases and diagnoses may also have been delayed, and those individuals could experience advanced stages of diseases that would normally have been caught earlier.
Arias says, “If we were to eliminate COVID completely, we might return to a mortality pattern like we had back in 2019. But it could also be the case that the pandemic has indirect effects that we haven’t seen before.”
The Indirect Effects of a Global Pandemic
The report found other disturbing trends in life expectancy, not only gender lines, but racial lines as well, all attributed to the direct and indirect effects of COVID-19. For example, Hispanic adults in the U.S. live longer than Black or white Americans, but they experienced the largest decline in life expectancy out of all of the groups studied in 2020, dropping from 82 years to 79. Also, thanks to the pandemic, the gap in life expectancy between white and Black people increased to nearly six years after a pattern of closing over the last three decades.
“In many ways, the report tells us the profound impact of COVID, not only just direct COVID deaths, but of course, on other diseases that probably were exacerbated,” says Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “Losing a year of life expectancy is a big, big deal.” According to Benjamin, “the nation’s anemic response to the pandemic resulted in more deaths than there had to be.”
Benjamin goes on to encourage vaccination as an essential aspect of eliminating COVID-19 altogether, though he admits it may not completely improve the issue of life expectancy, at least not in the short-term. “It’s not just COVID,” he says, “it’s heart disease, lung disease, cancer, all those things — we’re not out of this yet, because of all the care that was delayed during COVID.”
One Plane Ride Away
There are worries among the scientific community—Benjamin, as well—that this is not the last pandemic we will see in this generation, and that the U.S. hasn’t quite learned its lesson from this most recent experience.
“Another one is just around the corner,” Benjamin states. “The mistaken lesson from this is not that this is the 100-year pandemic and we’re not going to see another one for 100 years — no, no, no, no, no. We’re only one mutation, one plane ride away, from something very, very bad.”
The take-away for retirees should be obvious, says Rajiv Nagaich of AgingOptions. Make sure you have a LifePlan in place, so that you and your family are ready for whatever befalls you. Take precautions to ensure good health: exercise, a proper diet, and regular consultation with a geriatrician as your primary health care provider. “Stories like these shouldn’t necessarily frighten us,” says Rajiv. “But they should motivate us to stop procrastinating and start planning!”
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(originally reported at https://consumer.healthday.com)