The new coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2, does not discriminate. It can cause respiratory infections ranging from mild to life threatening in anyone who’s exposed to it.
But while COVID-19, the disease SARS-CoV-2 causes, can and does affect people of all ages, it tends to cause more severe cases in older adults. People over the age of 60 may also have more trouble recovering from this respiratory disease.
So, it becomes even more important for older adults to take precautions to stay safe and healthy during this pandemic. This article will take a closer look at how to do so.
SARS-CoV-2 infections seem to be more severe among older adults than young people, but scientists aren’t sure why yet.
To complicate matters, it’s not an absolute rule, either. Some young people do experience very severe cases, while some older adults just develop minor symptoms and recover without too much trouble.
However, older adults are considered a high-risk population when it comes to being more susceptible to more severe cases of COVID-19. One possible reason: Your immune system grows weaker as you get older, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
As a result, your immune system may have a harder time fighting off an invader like SARS-CoV-2 compared with a younger person with a more robust immune system.
Another reason: Many people develop other health conditions as they age that might also increase their risk.
For example, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and chronic lung disease, which tend to be more common in older people, can also make you more vulnerable to serious complications from COVID-19.
Your immune system weakens as you age. This may be why older adults have a harder time dealing with the symptoms of COVID-19.
Also, you may be more likely to develop other health conditions as you age, which can make it more difficult to fight off the virus that causes COVID-19.
However, some people developed symptoms much later, with nearly everyone showing symptoms within 12 days. That means it’s possible to have an infection for quite some time and not know it. You might not even realize you were exposed.
However, there are some common symptoms to watch out for, such as:
These aren’t the only possible symptoms of COVID-19.
You might also start to experience:
Occasionally, people will report gastrointestinal symptoms, like diarrhea, too.
If you start to develop any of these symptoms, especially if you think you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, don’t head to your doctor’s office or the emergency room unless it’s urgent.
Instead, call your doctor right away for advice on what to do and where to get tested. Your city or county may also have a hotline you can call to get advice about where to seek testing and medical care.
If you start to develop mild symptoms of COVID-19, like a fever, cough, or fatigue, call your doctor’s office for advice on testing. Don’t go to an emergency room unless it’s urgent.
If your symptoms are mild, self-care measures and resting at home may be all you need to recover.
But, in some cases of COVID-19, symptoms can escalate quickly to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which is a medical emergency.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, call 911 immediately:
- shortness of breath or trouble breathing
- ongoing pain, discomfort, or a feeling of tightness in your chest or upper abdomen
- sudden confusion or difficulty thinking clearly
- a high fever that doesn’t improve with normal cooling measures
- a bluish tint to the lips, nails, gums, around the eyes, or other parts of the skin
- a weak pulse
- cold hands or feet
The best way to handle an illness like COVID-19 is to avoid contracting the virus in the first place.
While no prevention strategy is absolutely foolproof, some strategies are your best bet for avoiding the virus.
Stay home and away from others
Stay home as much as possible. Don’t give in to the temptation to venture out just for the sake of getting out. The fewer people you come into contact with, the better.
You’re undoubtedly familiar with the concept of social or physical distancing by now. Although a lot is still unknown about COVID-19, one thing is clear: The less social interaction you have, the less likely you are to be exposed to the new coronavirus.
Some people can be asymptomatic while having an infection, so you can’t necessarily tell by looking at someone if they have it or not.
If you need to leave your home, try to consolidate your trips to the grocery store or pharmacy into as few trips as possible.
Wear a cloth face mask while in public. Maintain at least a berth of 6 feet (2 meters) between yourself and other people.
If you can, order food and other household supplies and have them delivered to your home. Or ask family members or friends to pick up the items you need.
Wash your hands
Take 20 seconds with the soap and water, and be sure to scrub all surfaces of your hands, including between your fingers, before you rinse.
If you don’t have access to soap and water, the CDC recommends you use a 60 percent alcohol-based hand sanitizer to rid your hands of potential germs.
Avoid contact with sick people
If you’re staying home, you’re avoiding sick people in the community. But if someone in your household becomes ill, you’ll need to stay away from them to avoid getting sick, too.
You can stay in separate rooms for the duration of their illness. Limit the use of common areas in your home. Don’t forget to regularly clean and disinfect household surfaces that might harbor germs.
Put all those cleaning supplies and disinfecting wipes to use by frequently cleaning and disinfecting all high-touch surfaces in your home. This includes:
- light switches
- remote controls
- refrigerator handles
- computer keyboards
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Social isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness, even under ordinary circumstances. In fact, 43 percent of adults 60 and older report feeling lonely, according to a recent report on older adults.
According to a recent study, you may need to be especially vigilant about the psychological toll this disease may take on you if you already live with anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions.
While you may feel lonely and anxious, know that you’re not alone in feeling this way. There are resources and strategies to help you get through this trying time while you’re staying home and avoiding exposure to the new coronavirus.
Here are some additional tips that may help with being isolated.
While older adults may have a higher risk for more severe symptoms of COVID-19, you can take steps to protect yourself.
Stay home, limit your interactions with others, and commit yourself to good hand and home hygiene. Keep yourself occupied to help engage your mind and keep loneliness at bay while you’re sheltering in place in your home.