Older Adults and Coronavirus: What You Need to Know

Coronavirus safety and prevention

Anyone can become infected by the coronavirus, but for older adults 60 and older, the risk is particularly high. 

The primary symptoms of Covid-19 include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. If you have any of these symptoms, call your doctor.

Get immediate help if you:

  • Struggle to breathe or have shortness of breath

  • Continuous pain or chest pressure

  • Trouble waking up

  • New confusion

  • Develop bluish lips or face

This guide offers tips for people of any age to protect themselves, but seniors must follow guidelines issued by official health organizations.

Read this official guide from the CDC for more information: People at Risk for Serious Illness from COVID-19

Why are older adults more at risk for the coronavirus?

There are several factors that put older adults, particularly those older than 75, at risk for Covid-19.

Age-related immune function decline

As we age, so do the cells in our bodies that defend us from diseases. A weaker immune system makes older adults more vulnerable to more severe illnesses.

For seniors in their 60s and potentially their 70s, their immune system may work about as well when they were younger.

However, after 75 or 80, immune functions can rapidly decline.

White blood cells, which are responsible for finding and eliminating infections, decrease as we get older. Additionally, the coronavirus damages immune cells that would usually fight it.

With fewer white blood cells and a disease that attacks immune cells, COVID-19 becomes much more dangerous.

Higher risk of chronic diseases

Chronic diseases are typically the result of dangerous cell replication caused by aging. 

High levels of these damaging cells can inhibit various organs from functioning properly, which raises the risk of chronic conditions.

In addition to a weak immune system, chronic diseases like diabetes make it difficult to fight infections. 

Furthermore, some treatments for common conditions like hypertension and cardiovascular disease can compromise the immune system.

Source: National Council on Aging

Respiratory complications 

Covid-19 infects the airways and causes an inflammatory process in the lungs, similar to SARS. 

Some may not be as efficient at coughing or sneezing, which can make it difficult for them to clear the virus out of their airways. 

Moreover, seniors with lung damage from smoking or air pollution are highly susceptible to this disease and others like pneumonia.

Congregated living

Although only about 5% of seniors live in nursing facilities, the most severe outbreaks in the U.S. so far originated in these settings. 

Chronic health problems may require interventions or ongoing treatment in facilities such as nursing homes.

These types of places can make social distancing difficult. And when many may have underlying conditions, the risk of a fast-spreading disease like Covid-19 becomes exceptionally high.

In light of the recent outbreaks, the CDC has issued guidelines for care facilities to cope with the disease.

Preventative Measures for Seniors

Health officials recommend that older adults take special precautions to protect themselves from the coronavirus. 

The CDC and WHO have listed general guidelines that can lower the risk of infection, including:

  • Regular handwashing with soap and water for 20 seconds

  • Avoiding crowds

  • Social distancing

  • Not touching your face

  • Staying home if you are sick

  • Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing and sneezing, discarding the tissue, and washing your hands.

  • Disinfecting objects and surfaces

As part of these guidelines, elders should reconsider having visitors, especially ones who are ill. 

Reschedule checkups

If your loved one has an upcoming appointment or yearly checkup, you may share concerns about visiting the hospital or doctor’s office. 

Depending on where you live, and the degree of community spread in your community, you may want to reschedule for a later date. 

If an elder already feels sick, postponing the appointment can also benefit health care workers working with others who may have the disease. 

If you are responsible for the care of a loved one, consider looking into other avenues such as telehealth.

Avoid travel and large crowds

Traveling is not advised for anyone at this moment, regardless of age. 

Although everyone’s chance of infection varies, older adults should reevaluate travel, especially via airplane or cruise.

Large crowds are often unavoidable in airports and other areas when traveling, which raises the risk of transmission.

The risk of social isolation

Currently, quarantines are one of the most effective methods for containing the spread of Covid-19.

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But social distancing can have detrimental consequences for a population that is already vulnerable to isolation and loneliness

About 25% of elders are socially isolated, and 43% frequently experience loneliness. 

Research shows that strong social interactions provide a better quality of life and overall well-being. 

But in a time when social interaction can be potentially life-threatening for older adults, many could see a worsening quality of life due to protective measures regarding the outbreak.

Seniors and their loved ones can mitigate the effects of social isolation while still practicing safety with the help of social media and video chats.

 

Coronavirus Precautions for Caregivers

Covid-19 poses a health risk for people of any age, but older adults are particularly susceptible. 

Millions rely on caregivers who are often overworked, underpaid, and lack protections such as health care, paid time off, or job security. 

The spread of the coronavirus has raised the question of who will care for the caregivers?

Recent measures enacted across the U.S. in nursing homes, hospitals, and elsewhere has caused a significant degree of anxiety for the loved ones of elders living in these facilities. 

It’s paramount that during a public health crisis of this scale, that people listen to health organizations and professional caregivers and not fall victim to panic or fear.

Here are ways to keep in contact with elders without risking exposure to the virus.

The importance of planning

Caregivers should take additional steps to protect themselves and the elder they are responsible for. 

person-writing-bucket-list-on-book
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Additionally, families should formulate backup plans if the caregiver becomes unwell. 

Planning ensures that an aging loved one receives continuous care. But, also, having a Plan B lowers panic and anxiety, which is just as crucial during times like this one.

Family members should communicate their loved one’s care plan, so everyone is on the same page.

Another important aspect of planning is making sure that the elder has enough food and medication for a minimum of two weeks.

Learn about mail order prescription services and grocery delivery for your family’s elders, too.

Conclusion

While elders, caregivers, and other health care professionals on the front lines are the most at risk for the coronavirus, only some older adults are experiencing the worst symptoms.

The disease is not something to take lightly, but it’s essential to keep calm to reduce panic.

Many have recovered, and elders in good health have a good chance of surviving. 

Following the right precautions will ensure the health and safety of older adults, their loved ones, and their caregivers.

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Contact us at 1-888-541-1136.

We update our blog every Monday, so check in regularly and find new information about senior care.


Sources

  • Blocker, Kati. “For Older Adults, Coronavirus Can Be More Serious.” UCHealth Today, 12 Mar. 2020, www.uchealth.org/today/older-adults-coronavirus-can-be-more-serious/.
  • Irfan, Umair, and Julia Belluz. “Why Covid-19 Is so Dangerous for Older Adults.” Vox, Vox, 12 Mar. 2020, www.vox.com/2020/3/12/21173783/coronavirus-death-age-covid-19-elderly-seniors.
  • “Parent and Caretaker Resources and Recommendations.” Washington State Department of Health, www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/NovelCoronavirusOutbreak2020/ParentsCaregivers.
  • Poo, Ai-jen. “Protect Caregivers From Coronavirus.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 9 Mar. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/03/09/opinion/protect-caregivers-from-coronavirus.html.
  • Zia, Shafaq, et al. “Q&A: How to Care for the Elderly without Putting Them at Risk of Coronavirus.” STAT, 12 Mar. 2020, www.statnews.com/2020/03/12/qa-how-to-care-for-the-elderly-without-putting-them-at-risk-of-coronavirus/.

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