Seniors at higher risk from COVID-19
Older adults may be at greater risk from the novel coronavirus, and therefore should take greater precautions to reduce their chances of exposure to the disease and the likelihood of serious illness if they should get it.
Because COVID-19 is so new, information regarding risk factors is limited, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on what is known about it, those who are over the age of 65, live in long-term care facilities or have underlying medical conditions common to older adults, such as diabetes, obesity, heart, kidney or liver disease, and compromised immune systems seem to be most vulnerable.
According to the CDC, 31 to 59 percent of adults between the ages of 65 and 84 with confirmed cases of COVID-19 require hospitalization, and 11 to 31 percent require admission to an intensive care unit.
Eight out of 10 deaths reported in the United States from the virus have been of adults 65 years old or older.
So what do older adults need to know about the illness to keep themselves from getting it?
Jennifer Morris, a local family nurse practitioner, says they should avoid going out and being around others to the extent possible.
“Really, I think they, as much as anybody else, need to be careful about staying at home, and they need to be careful about restricting visitors,” she said. “If they have family members or friends who can drop stuff off for them at the front door,” that would be helpful.
They also should do what everyone should be doing: wash their hands often and for at least 20 seconds, wipe down frequently touched surfaces and practice social distancing when they do have to go out, she said. Make sure they stay at least six feet away from other people and wear their masks and gloves.
It’s important, also for their caregivers to maintain those practices.
“If they have caregivers, those people should be regularly making sure they don’t have symptoms and be checking their temperature regularly, which is what a lot of hospitals and health care places are doing as well,” Morris said.
Dr. Ralph Alvarado, an internist with Kentucky One and state senator who chairs the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, said something the legislature did a couple of years ago that has proven invaluable during the current health crisis is to allow reimbursement of telemedicine conferences — patient visits with their health care providers via live video.
“I didn’t realize we were going to need it this desperately this fast,” he said.
It allows people to get in touch with their doctor and tell her or him about their symptoms without risking exposure.
Even within the home, Alvarado said, the elderly might limit their contact with others.
His mother, he said, is 82, lives in a basement apartment in the family’s home and limits her interaction with him because he sees patients at nursing homes, and “she’s fearful I can bring something back.” He changes his clothes and showers as soon as he comes home from work, and his wife does his mother’s shopping.
Dr. Kathryn Jones, a family practitioner with Clark Clinic Primary Care and former medical director for Fountain Circle Care and Rehabilitation Center, said older adults are more vulnerable to infectious diseases such as the coronavirus because they are more likely to have underlying medical conditions, live in close proximity to others in a long-term care facility and have weaker immune systems, which makes it harder to fight off infections.
Jones said it is especially important for seniors to be able to use televideo conferences with their providers.
“We want to avoid having them sit in the waiting room with other sick people. We feel it’s better if they don’t come in right now,” and instead talk with their doctor by telephone or a digital video app.
If it’s a situation where they must be seen in the office, “we’ll see them one at a time, without anybody else in the office,” she said.
Staying healthy while staying at home is important, Jones said.
While some believe ordering prepared and delivered food through services such as Door Dash involves less exposure than going to the grocery, the food is also more likely to be fried or unhealthful. Older adults should eat “balanced meals” with fruits, vegetables and good sources of protein, she said.
“I would lean toward preparing it at home if the person is able to do that,” she said, and if they do order food delivered, they should make sure it’s something nutritious.
Exercise is important, too, and it’s harder to do now, but there are yoga and other exercise programs on TV that the elderly can do while watching, Jones said. And if the weather is pleasant, they can go for walks with family members or neighbors as long as they wear their masks and practice social distancing.
Seniors and those who care for them should also be mindful about emotional and mental health, Jones said. Worrying about the pandemic and loneliness can contribute to anxiety and depression.
“They should take breaks from watching all that stuff on TV” about the virus, she said. Maybe only watch the governor’s daily briefing at 5, but not be always watching or reading about it.
And the same kinds of applications they use with their medical providers can make it easier to talk with and see their friends and relatives, Jones said.
Older adults may not be as adept at using FaceTime, Zoom or Skype, but they can learn, or their caregiver can help them with it, she said.
“We may have to be apart from each other, but we don’t have to be isolated because we’ve got all this technology now,” Jones said. “Any way they can connect with others is important.”