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Age-restriction of interaction for well-being

When a driver could be at risk from age and health, their licence application is carefully screened. We don’t slow down all the traffic to make it safe for them.
If 92% of road deaths were aged 60+, would it be more logical to stop drivers aged 60+ from driving, or reduce traffic by restricting everyone’s social and economic interaction? To March 30th 2020 92% of World deaths from COVID-19 were 60+. Social restriction of 65+ would enable 65- to have a life, economic recovery and the community to pay for the panic.


Seligman in 1991 published ‘Learned Optimism’ and reported results of an earlier experiment that measured psychological effects on physical health.
Groups of rats in 3 cages had a few cancerous cells injected under their skins. Cage 1 received no shocks. Two of the groups, Cages 2 and 3, then received electric shocks at random. Cage 2 could escape from the shocks by together pressing a switch, which they quickly learned to do when they rushed to the end of the cage and pressed on a bar that turned the shock off for a time. Cage 3 could not escape from the shocks.

Cage 1 Cage 2 Cage 3

After a time, the rats that were still alive were checked for presence of cancer tumours. Rats with tumours that had grown to more than 6mm were euthanized and recorded as ‘died’.

no shock (control)
switch off shock

The results were dramatic and surprising. Most surprising was that the rats who mastered the shock and switched it off did better (70% lived) than the rats that had no shock at all (50%) and those shocked (27%).
The rats in Cage 2 had control over unpleasantness, seeming to strengthen their resistance to cancer with lower mortality. The experiment demonstrated a phenomenon ‘Learned Helplessness.’ When an inescapable unpleasantness has to be experienced, the individual’s resistance is lowered generally. Conversely, through overcoming the unpleasantness, the individual’s resistance is strengthened.
Helplessness is a default reaction to bad events which when it turns on the dorsal raphe nucleus in the limbic system, turns off the hope circuit activated by mastery and anticipation of control. Regardless of the outside world, it produces all the symptoms of learned helplessness: the panic, the passivity, the sadness. If the dorsal raphe was anaesthetised and turned off they didn’t become helpless and their immune system increased activity.
Being in control of even a stressful environment is better for health than being helpless.
It is hypothesised that individuals able to exercise control over unpleasant aspects of restrictions and treatment would be more likely to recover from COVID-19. Individuals could have control over their access to care, personalisation of the testing and treatment environment, diet choice, exercise opportunities, limited isolation and social interaction opportunities. Nurturing of control by patients over their treatments and environments would improve their effectiveness.

Learned Helplessness

The elephant has learned to be helpless.


Herd immunity is the resistance to the spread of a contagious disease within a population that results if a sufficiently high proportion of individuals are immune to the disease, especially through vaccination.

The prospects for a vaccine are, according to New Scientist, 21 March 2020, p45, ‘. . . the fastest we have ever cranked out a vaccine in response to an outbreak was with Ebola – and that took five years . . .

The other way is to allow 50-80% of the population to become infected quickly so that survivors will be in an immune herd. The strategy has ethical objections that it practices eugenics, aiming to improve the genetic quality of a human population. Some consider it is more ethical and politically viable to suppress the pandemic with economic and social restrictions that wreck the economy.

An article in aljazeera asks: Which countries have allowed the elderly and the sick to die in numbers, as an alternative to widespread economic damage caused by more stringent suppression measures?

Countries have responded differently, as is evident from this table.





Total deaths


Deaths per

million km2

Deaths per million
Australia 25499884 7692024 6468 63 8.2 2.5
Canada 37742154 9984670 29929 1191 119 31
UK 67886011 242900 103093 13729 56500 202
USA 331002651 9372610 670598 1645 176 5.0
China 1439323776 9706961 82341 3342 344 2.3
Sweden 10099265 450295 12540 1333 2962 132
Denmark 5792202 43094 6879 321 7465 55.4
Netherlands 17134872 41850 29214 3315 79211 194
Norway 5421241 323802 6848 152 469 28



It remains to be seen if stringent suppression has merely delayed deaths until later, with more and longer lasting economic damage. A short sharp economic shock from epidemic virulence could possibly be less damaging overall, except for people who are without medical treatment. Countries that adopt a balance between medical and economic constraints may be best placed to countenance the uncertainties.

A possible philosophy is to keep hospital beds treating as many COVID-19 cases as possible.

Data: April 16th, 2020


Suppose an imaginary country has 92% of road deaths aged 60+. To March 30th 2020 92% of World deaths from COVID-19 were 60+. Would they close the highway to all traffic? (Shut down the economy). Or would they restrict maximum speed of drivers of all ages? (Social distancing). Or would some age-specific control be desirable, e.g. driver licensing age restrictions on 60+? (Restricted by quarantine, some of the 60+ group would die of non-traffic causes anyway. In Australia in 2018, 87.5% of all deaths were 60+).

Considering only 8% of people who die are 60-, equal speed restriction on all ages might be unfair to younger drivers. Could driver licensing exclude those incapable of looking after themselves in accident situations, as well as those causing others to have accidents. There could be a speed limit for 60+.

The COVID -19 corollary is that in the 60+ age group, anyone unwilling to isolate or socially distance voluntarily, could have to pass a health and fitness test. Alternatively there could be mandatory restrictions on 60+ years.

60+ people who want more protection could restrict themselves voluntarily. For example, if it was known to be foolish for an elderly person to enter a shopping crowd, they would have a choice, like waiting for a gap in traffic before crossing the road.

My comments do not oppose current restrictions. When restrictions come up for renewal, could a return to voluntarism be considered? Any restriction could be by age. This could restore social, economic and education opportunities to 60- people who are hurting.

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