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May 28, 2020

Coronavirus and Older Adults: New Information to Know

As our knowledge of COVID-19 continues to change, new information is constantly emerging about symptom profiles, modes of transmission and more. Most recently, it’s been reported that COVID-19 symptoms might stretch beyond the common signs of shortness of breath, fever and cough. Let’s take a look at some of the latest information and how the virus presents itself differently in older adults.

New Coronavirus Symptoms to Be Aware Of

In addition to fever, dry cough, shortness of breath and fatigue, the World Health Organization (WHO) has also listed diarrhea, runny nose, nasal congestion, and loss of taste or smell as symptoms of COVID-19. You could also experience a rash on your fingers or toes, pink eye, and headache, according to WHO. 

How Coronavirus Affects Older Adults

We already know that coronavirus is more dangerous for older adults thanks to underlying or chronic medical conditions and a weakened immune response. However, older adults with COVID-19 may have atypical symptoms not listed above. 

For some older adults infected with coronavirus, they may just seem “off” — sleeping more than usual, not eating, confused, dizzy or apathetic. That’s because underlying or chronic illnesses like neurological disorders can mask typical symptoms, experts say.

Dr. Sam Torbati, medical director of the Ruth and Harry Roman Emergency Department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, says some older adults may become weak and dehydrated and when they try to get up and move, they fall, causing severe injuries. 

Dr. Torbati has also seen some older adults who appear to have suffered strokes — unable to speak and severely disoriented — but who actually are positive for COVID-19. 

If a loved one is in a nursing home, that could affect how they fare against the disease as well, experts say. In addition to infection control concerns, most nursing homes have canceled activities that would have otherwise had residents up and moving around. The result? Patients are getting weaker.

Many experts say it’s hard to understand why some older patients are able to be treated and sent home while others need supportive care in the ICU.

It’s entirely possible for someone to have a bad day and not seem like themselves for a short period of time, but if you notice that yourself or a loved one seems “off” for several days in a row, seek medical attention. If you do seek medical attention and are brushed off and things don’t improve, keep seeking care until your concerns are addressed, experts say.

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