As we gradually move towards easing the lockdown, here's a question: have the over-70s been excessively stereotyped as vulnerable and fragile by their experience of being cocooned?
Cocooned, according to a dictionary definition, is "being protected from everyday life and problems", and plenty of oldsters feel the cocooning policy has had a negative effect on their resilience and collective self-esteem.
Yes, it was evident that older people were medically more vulnerable to catching the coronavirus, so it was wise to shelter from the risk. It became evident that clusters of the virus were running riot in care homes for the elderly. But not all oldies are the same, and many resent the blanket way in which they all have been lumped together.
There are many individuals in this age bracket who have underlying health conditions - didn't Maeve Binchy coin the joke about oldsters starting a conversation with "the organ recital", being a litany of aches, pains and medications? But there are also plenty of over-70s who are fit and healthy, physically and mentally, who walk, swim, cycle and play tennis like demons.
They are also socially active and culturally connected: they're the ones at the concerts, the art galleries, the theatres, the opera festivals and the book clubs.
I know oldies who solve tough cryptic crosswords, beat their grandkids at Scrabble and play a mean game of chess, and this active group of over-70s can resent being constantly described as vulnerable and fragile. With a lifetime of experience behind them, they feel they can be trusted to use their judgment and act sensibly without being repeatedly bossed about.
Admittedly, sometimes it's their own grown children who are bossing them. I've heard mothers say, "My kids are like the Covid police", and there are droll anecdotes about role-reversal situations where the older generation is the sullen teenager and the younger generation is the over-protective parent (in England, the healthy over-70s were always allowed out for brief exercise.)
"Where are you going, mum?" "Out." "Well, don't be long! And don't be talking to anyone!" "Stop trying to control my life!" "It's for your own good." "Repressive authoritarianism!"
Moreover, the constant emphasis on shielding and protecting may have had a negative impact on psychological attitudes. If people keep telling you that you're a fragile wee thing, it can rob you of confidence and robustness. This was what happened to Victorian women - they were so wrapped in cotton wool, they succumbed to neurotic conditions like neurasthenia and hypochondriasis. If people are told they're feeble, they become feeble.
In his book about staying healthy and fit in old age, Sod 70!, the bracing Scottish doctor Muir Gray says that the primary requirement for fitness in old age is activity. If you want to be fit when old, stay active. Walk for 30 minutes every day. Take up cycling. Have a positive attitude. Have a daily mental workout. Meet friends and family - and pursue a hobby that absorbs you. Cut down on the booze and quit the fags. Don't travel by car unless you absolutely must. Don't slump in front of the TV. The fight, he says, is against a "sedentary epidemic".
Gerontology - the medical study of age - is only about 50 years old as a specialisation, and in that time, says Dr Muir, medics have learned that old people can be hale and healthy, but they need to actively pursue fitness, not lapse into passivity or isolation. The same point is made by other sources. A renowned 2012 study from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, and peer-reviewed in the British Medical Journal, found that older people live longer and in better health if they are physically and mentally active. "Of all leisure activities, physical exercise was most strongly associated with (longer) survival," it said.
Exercise, activity, social contact and mental stimulation have also been identified as key to fulfilling older living by retirement gurus Doreen Rosenthal and Susan Moore.
However, exercise, activity, social contact and mental stimulus were either removed or greatly reduced by the experiences and attitudes of cocooning. And now I fear the cocooning may have left a permanent impact on social attitudes towards senior citizens. Regrettably, some older people have been made fearful of resuming a normal life. This timidity will have an ageing effect.
Obviously, some shielding had to be done, and the cocooning was only advisory, not mandatory.
But now emphasise the other side of the coin: if people are to thrive in their senior years, activity and social contact are vital. Many over-70s are robust in mind and body, so don't dent their confidence by treating the entire demographic as frail weaklings.
We acted for the common good over some 12 weeks. With the development of tracking and tracing, it's surely time to welcome back the over-70s as fully functioning members of society.