The coronavirus pandemic has been a game-changer for all Americans, especially those over the age of 65. That’s because COVID-19, the official name for the illness that’s caused by novel coronavirus, is more dangerous for seniors.
In younger people COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. However, seniors – the age group that’s at highest risk from complications or even death – may not show any of these signs. If you suspect that your senior has COVID-19, here’s what to look for and how to help them if necessary.
Why Is COVID-19 Harder to Detect in Seniors?
Doctors who treat a lot of elderly patients will tell you that it’s more difficult to diagnose them due to the aging process itself. That’s because aging alters the body’s immune response and its ability to regulate temperature. Those changes then influence how a senior’s body responds to illness and infection.
Many seniors also have underlying chronic illnesses, like cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, that mask or interfere with the signs of infection. Older adults with dementia are oftentimes unable to communicate their symptoms to a doctor. For all these reasons a senior could present with normal vital signs even after they’ve been infected by COVID-19.
COVID-19 Warning Signs in the Elderly
When around your elderly loved one look for these COVID-19 warning signs:
Change in sleep habits
It’s not unusual for older adults to have erratic sleeping patterns, whether it’s sleeping too much or not enough. However, if your loved one suddenly starts sleeping more than usual, it could be due to COVID-19.
Some seniors don’t eat like they should for reasons like depression, chewing discomfort or swallowing difficulties. But one of the signs of COVID-19 in the elderly is a loss of taste or smell- both of which can interfere with your loved one’s appetite.
Seniors with dementia oftentimes act disoriented and confused, and changes in their daily routine due to COVID-19 policies can certainly exacerbate their behavior. But if your loved one doesn’t normally behave that way it could be due to coronavirus.
Weakness and dehydration
Some doctors are reporting that they are seeing elderly patients with COVID-19 who initially get treated because they are weak and dehydrated. Those infected patients sometimes don’t have any other COVID-19 symptoms like fever, shortness of breath or coughing.
Medical professionals on the front lines are also reporting elderly COVID-19 patients that come to the ER with stroke-like symptoms including speaking difficulties, confusion and disoriented behavior. If your loved one appears to be having a stroke, keep in mind that it could also be coronavirus.
Loss of balance
Most older adults start noticing changes in their balance and coordination around the age of 55, which places them at risk for falls and serious injuries. However, doctors are treating what initially appear to be elderly trauma patients that fell at home who end up having COVID-19.
Physicians who’ve treated geriatric COVID-19 patients have also reported symptoms like low blood pressure, apathy, depression, vomiting, nausea, fatigue, lethargy, delirium, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
What Should You Do?
As their caregiver here’s what you can do if your loved one hasn’t seemed “like themselves” for a couple of days, and you suspect COVID-19 is the problem:
- Contact their primary doctor or your local COVID-19 health system hotline.
- Be sure to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) whenever you are around them.
- Get your loved one to self-isolate until you know for sure they don’t have coronavirus.
- Try to get them tested for COVID-19 and be persistent if you hear “no” the first time from their doctor.
An Extended Family in Your Loved One’s Home
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