Coronavirus and the elderly: What you need to know

Coronavirus and the elderly - What you need to know

The elderly and people with severe chronic health conditions like lung, heart, or kidney disease are at higher risk for COVID-19. With the seniors twice as likely to catch coronavirus, we need to take extra care to keep them safe and well.

The more you know about coronavirus and the elderly effects, the better prepared your family can keep them safe and healthy.

According to the CDC, coronavirus’s risk for severe illness increases with age, putting the older adults at highest risk.

Be aware of the coronavirus and the elderly. Seniors or those in their 60s and 70s are at higher risk for severe illness than younger people. People age 85 and older are at the highest risk for severe illness due to COVID-19.

Severe illness may require hospitalization, a ventilator, or intensive care to help them breathe and live.

The higher risk is attributed to how our immune system changes over time, and how our bodies have a harder time fighting off diseases and infection as we age.

Additionally, many older adults have underlying health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, making it difficult to cope and recover from illnesses.

Aside from these, age increases the risk of the respiratory system shutting down when an elderly had COVID-19 disease.

Understanding the different factors that increase the COVID-19 risk of coronavirus and the elderly will help us make decisions about what kind of precautions to provide to our elderly family members and citizens.

To protect our elderly and those in our community, we need to learn the facts and follow the CDC recommendations.

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CORONAVIRUS AND THE ELDERLY

WHAT IS COVID-19?

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by the new coronavirus. COVID-19 was first discovered in December 2019 in Wuhan, China.

Other coronaviruses disease includes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Coronaviruses can cause respiratory tract infections that range from the common cold to more serious respiratory illnesses, especially in people who have pre-existing medical conditions.

The elderly and people and those who have a chronic underlying medical illness like lung and heart disease are much more susceptible to catch COVID-19.

COVID-19 was declared a pandemic or global outbreak by the World Health Organization on March 12, 2020.  


SYMPTOMS OF COVID-19

Coronavirus and the elderly, let’s understand the symptoms. COVID-19 symptoms can range from a mild cough to pneumonia. People with COVID-19 may experience these symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Or at least two of these symptoms:

  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Loss of appetite
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • Confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

Many COVID-19 patients with severe complications may develop pneumonia in both lungs. Research also shows that 1% of coronavirus cases may result in death. However, the death rate varies by age, with seniors with pre-existing conditions more likely to die.


HOW DOES CORONAVIRUS SPREAD?

COVID-19 is very similar to seasonal flu; it can be transmitted from person-to-person through sneezing, coughing, talking, or close contact like touching or shaking hands. Droplets can land in the mouth or nose of people who are nearby and possibly inhaled into the lungs.

COVID-19 can also be transmitted by touching a surface with the virus and then touching the nose, eyes, or mouth without washing the hands.

The virus spreads quickly, just like the flu, that is why it’s hard to contain.

The incubation period of coronavirus is between 2 and 14 days; people without symptoms could be transmitting the disease without even knowing it.


IS THERE A CORONAVIRUS VACCINE OR TREATMENT?

Scientists and pharmaceutical companies are working to find a vaccine for this disease. Some vaccine treatments are scheduled by the end of 2020.

The World Health Organization announced that 20 potential vaccines are being tested to prevent coronavirus disease worldwide. COVID-19 treatments to relieve symptoms are already in clinical trials.

Currently, the existing drug Remdesivir with the combination of HIV and flu drugs are being tested.


DOES THE FLU SHOT PROVIDE PROTECTION AGAINST COVID-19?

Seasonal flu is known to cause severe illness and complications in most seniors. It is estimated that 70-85% of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people aged 65 and older.

Getting the flu shot reduces the seasonal flu risk. However, in terms of coronavirus disease, there’s still no evidence that the flu shot or pneumococcal vaccination can protect against coronavirus and the elderly.

COVID-19 may injure lung cells and make it easier for pneumonia to affect people even if they have a vaccine. Some infectious disease specialists still recommend flu vaccination to prepare for coronavirus.

For older adults, having the pneumococcal vaccine or flu shot can increase the chances of staying healthy.


HOW CAN YOU LIMIT YOUR EXPOSURE TO COVID-19?

1. Wash your hand often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after coughing, sneezing, blowing your nose, or after you have been in a public place.

Wash your hands:

  • Before touching your face
  • Before eating or preparing food
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After handling your face mask
  • After using the restroom
  • After leaving a public place
  • After caring for someone sick
  • After changing animals or pets
  • After changing a diaper

2. If soap and water are not readily available, use alcohol or hand sanitizer containing 60% alcohol. Cover the surface of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.

3. Avoid touching your nose, eyes, and mouth with unwashed hands.

4. Coughing or sneezing

  • Always cover your mouth and nose with a facial tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Use the inside of your elbow to cough or sneeze if you don’t have a facial tissue.
  • Do not spit on the ground.
  • Throw used facial tissues in a lidded trash bin.
  • Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after coughing or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, clean your hands with alcohol or hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

5. Use a face mask or cloth face cover to cover your mouth and nose when around other people. The face mask is intended to protect other people you come in contact with in case you are infected. You could transmit COVID-19 to others even if you don’t have symptoms

  • You should always wear a cloth face cover in public places and when around other people who don’t live in your household, especially when social distancing is difficult to maintain.
  • Do not put a face mask on children under two years old or those who have trouble breathing, unconscious, incapacitated, or unable to remove the mask or face cover without assistance.
  • Use facemask, but remember it is not a substitute for social distancing.

6. Keep physical distance from others. Keep about 6 feet or 2 meters between yourself and others.

7. Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces such as doorknobs, tables, desk, countertops, light switches, handles, keyboards, faucets, toilets, and sink.

  • Clean dirty surfaces with detergent or soap before disinfection.
  • Use household disinfectant.

8. Limit your home visitors to a single person visit. Don’t allow sick people to visit you.

9. Limit large group gatherings. Stay away from events where a large group of people will gather, such as large family events, classes, movies, and shows.

10. Avoid cruise travel. Avoid airline travel, especially to countries with large transmissions. If you must travel by plane, exercise good practices, keep a safe distance, wash your hands frequently, use hand sanitizer or alcohol. Wipe commonly used surfaces such as tray seat control buttons, tables, armrest with sanitizing wipes.


WHAT TO DO TO PREPARE FOR COVID-19 IN YOUR COMMUNITY

Know the special measures taken in your community to fight COVID-19. Know the available services during a health emergency such as home deliveries, psychosocial support, and alternative access to your pension.

Create a list of the basic supplies you need that will last for at least two weeks. List non-perishable food items, household and hygiene products, batteries for your assistive devices, and prescription medications.

Ask family members or caregivers to help you order your needs online. Make sure your mobile phone credit sufficient. Charge your phone regularly to contact your family and friends and reach emergency services if needed.

Make a list of emergency numbers such as your nearby hospital, COVID-19 local helpline, health emergency numbers, the hotline for abuse victims, and the psychosocial support hotline.

Also list your caregiving support numbers for family members, friends, caregivers, and community care workers. If you live alone, ask the people on your list to be in touch regularly through phone or video chat.

Ask your healthcare worker how to address your health needs during the pandemic. You may choose to postpone non-urgent doctor appointments, opt for a telehealth consultation by phone or video chat instead of an in-person consultation.

If you rely on caregivers, assign a person you trust to support your daily living care if your primary caregiver is unable to provide care. Ask your family to note all the care and assistance you require and how it will be provided in case your primary caregiver is sick.

Prepare a separate room in your home if multiple people live with you. If anyone is showing symptoms of coronavirus, isolate them in the room, you identify for isolation.

If you don’t have a place for self-isolation, contact your health authorities to see if there are community spaces that you could or your family member self-isolate.


HOW TO KEEP HEALTHY DURING THE PANDEMIC

1. Keep your regular routines such as your meal times, sleeping, and other daily activities. Do not let the pandemic disrupt your daily schedule.

2. Be physically active every day. Use household chores to keep you physically active. Reduce long periods of sitting, exercise at least 30 minutes. Make sure your exercise routine is safe and appropriate to your fitness level indicated by your doctor.

3. Eat healthy and well-balanced meals. Drink enough water to keep you hydrated.

4. Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol. Smoking can affect lung capacity, and it increases the possibility of respiratory problems. Drinking alcohol will disturb your sleep and increase your risk of falls. It may also interact with your prescription medicines.

5. We aware of coronavirus and the elderly. Take your prescribed medicines if you have ongoing health conditions. Follow your doctor’s advice and have a telehealth consultation if necessary.

6. Engage in activities or hobbies that you enjoy. Reading a book, cooking, or gardening will keep you active. Learn something new. There are lots of videos on the internet to help you find exciting activities.

7. Stay socially connected. Keep in touch with your loved ones and friends through the phone, video-calls, or messaging. Use social media to stay socially connected.

8. Take breaks from news coverage about the pandemic. Prolonged exposure to news may make you feel anxious and desperate. Check updates from reliable sources like the CDC or WHO website.

9. Contact your health care provider if you have an emergency medical condition not related to coronavirus.

10. Seek psychosocial support if fear, sadness, worry is getting in your daily activities for several days. There are support services that can help you in your community.


WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE COVID-19 OR WERE EXPOSED TO COVID-19

If you have coronavirus symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, muscle pain, sore throat, headache, chills, repeated shaking with chills, and loss of taste or smell, get in touch with your healthcare provider within 24 hours.

Call by phone first and give information about your pre-existing health conditions and your prescription medication. Follow the instructions of your doctor and monitor your symptoms regularly.

If you have severe symptoms such as trouble breathing, persistent pain, or pressure in the chest, confusion, bluish lips, or face, call your healthcare provider immediately. Be prepared to go to the hospital as soon as possible—call 911 for a medical emergency.

We should be careful about coronavirus and the elderly. If you live with other people, make sure to isolate yourself as soon as you feel the symptoms. If you suspect an infection, use your room to isolate yourself.

Let the members of your household wear a mask or face covering to protect themselves.

If you live in a home care facility, advise your caregiver about your symptoms. Let your household members follow available guidelines about COVID-19 infection.

If you live alone, contact your primary health care worker and tell them your symptoms. Ask your family, friends, neighbors, or a local volunteer organization to check on you regularly to provide support as needed.


VISITING A LOVED ONE IN A NURSING HOME OR ASSISTED LIVING FACILITY

Due to the coronavirus and the elderly risks, many facilities have updated their visiting policies as COVID-19 cases increase in the US. Some health care facilities have limited visitor policies in place.

Some nursing homes and assisted living facilities have eliminated visiting to keep the patients in their care safe and healthy. Check the facility’s website or call them to know if there are visitation changes in the place where your loved ones live.

If visiting is allowed in the facility, follow these general guidelines:

  • Visit your loved one alone if you can, do not visit in large groups.
  • Wear a face mask or cloth face covering when you go to the facility.
  • Wash your hand or apply hand sanitizer when you enter the facility and when you leave. Use sanitizing wipes to wipe high touch surfaces such as doorknobs, tables, and chairs.
  • Do not visit your loved one in the nursing home or assisted living facility if you are not feeling well.
  • If your in-person visit is non-essential, visit your loved ones virtually using a computer or smartphone.
  • If your loved one is sick when you visit, ask the caregiver to give them a face mask.

The healthcare staff at the facility caring for your loved one will direct you on what to do at the time of your visit.


CORONAVIRUS AND THE ELDERLY

HOW TO SUPPORT OLDER ADULTS

We can show our support to older adults during this time of the pandemic. Most older adults depend on the support and services provided in their homes to maintain health and independence.

What family members, caregivers, and neighbors can do:

  • Know what prescription medications your older loved one is taking and make sure they are amply supplied. Make sure there’s a two week or longer supply of medicines.
  • Monitor their food and other medical supplies such as oxygen, dialysis needs, wound care, and other needs.
  • Stock up on groceries and non-perishable food items in the home to minimize going out and trips to the stores.
  • If you have a loved one in a nursing home or living care facility, monitor their health, and ask about other residents’ health.
  • Keep your communication open. Regularly call your older loved one through the phone or video calls.
  • Always disinfect frequently touched surfaces and use a face mask when going out of the house.

The best way to protect yourself and your older loved ones is to reduce the coronavirus spread. Coronavirus and the elderly is one topic we should be aware of. Limit our interactions with other people as much as possible.

Take precautions like wearing a face mask or cloth face covering when you interact with others. If you feel any symptoms of COVID-19, get in touch with your doctor within 24 hours.

As communities and businesses are starting to open, you may think about resuming some activities, shopping, and attending events and gathering.

If you are at increased risk from COVID-19 and live with older adults, consider your level of risk before deciding to go out. Protect yourself and refrain from going to places where social distancing can’t be maintained.

Staying healthy during this COVID-19 pandemic is important. Talk to your doctor if you need vaccinations and other preventive medical services to keep you healthy and help prevent you from becoming ill with other diseases.

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