This article was updated on April 29, 2020 to include additional symptoms of the 2019 coronavirus.

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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, the following health conditions can also make you more vulnerable to serious complications from COVID-19:

  • serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
  • kidney disease
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • obesity, which occurs in people with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher
  • sickle cell disease
  • a weakened immune system from a solid organ transplant
  • type 2 diabetes

It’s important to watch for possible signs of COVID-19. A recent study of people with COVID-19 in China found that the average incubation period for the disease was about 5 days.

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 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

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stresses the importance of frequent and thorough handwashing as a prevention strategy.

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:

  • doorknobs
  • countertops
  • light switches
  • remote controls
  • refrigerator handles
  • computer keyboards
  • phones
  • faucets
  • toilets

According to the CDC, you can use EPA-registered household disinfectants if you have them, or you can use a diluted bleach solution.

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.

Add the fear of a new disease without a proven treatment or vaccine, and social isolation gets even harder. Depression, anxiety, and sadness are all very common emotions in this type of situation.

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.

Coping tips and strategies

  • Take breaks from the news. A constant stream of negative or frightening news can bring you down even further. Try to limit your news intake to help you stay on a more even keel.
  • Create a routine. Sticking to a regular routine can establish a feeling of normalcy, which can be comforting in a time that’s definitely not normal. You may find that scheduling even just a few activities at set times can help ward off some of the depression.
  • Use an app to connect with other people. Modern technology has brought us options like FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp, and Zoom to connect with other people in real time. Talking to a friend, family member, or neighbor may help you feel a little less lonely. You might even want to schedule regular calls to check in.
  • Exercise. Exercise isn’t just good for your physical health. It’s also a proven mood lifter. It can help you relax and feel less anxious. Take a walk around your neighborhood, try some home workouts, or pull up a YouTube video that will lead you through some yoga poses or dance moves.
  • Take a virtual tour. Log on to the internet and take a leisurely tour through the Louvre in Paris or any number of other museums and gardens around the world. Not sure where to start? Try Google Arts & Culture’s list of the top 10 museums to explore. Bonus: You don’t have to put on your shoes or stand in any long lines!
  • Create something. Remember that old hobby you abandoned a few years ago? It might be time to pull out the stained glass, sewing machine, or paint brush and get reacquainted with it. You don’t have to be an accomplished artist, gardener, tailor, or chef to make something with your hands. It’s more about the process than the end result.
  • Meditate. There’s really no one definite way to meditate. Just pick whatever helps you relax and feel more centered. Or simply practice some deep breathing exercises when you feel yourself getting anxious.
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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.