COVID-19 Among Older Adults: What you Need to Know

I am a Gerontologist and my phone is ringing off the hook. Between hand-washings, elders and their adult children are calling with these questions:

  • Is COVID-19 really that much worse for older adults? (Yes)
  • Should older people try to reduce contact with people? (Yes)
  • What can we do to reduce the risk for my parents? (Read on)
  • I help my mother, what happens if I get the virus? (See below)
  • I’m 80, what should I do if I get the virus? (Keep reading)

There are 55 million Americans age 65 and older. Families provide 80% of their care. I too am blessed to have a 91-year-old mother who I help - and who helps me.

Here are the ways that we can all reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus:

  • Stay home as much as possible to reduce exposure risk
  • Forgo hugs and handshakes and keep a distance from people
  • Wash their hands with soap and water - a lot
  • Avoid non-essential air travel  
  • Take inventory of your parent’s medications so they don’t run out
  • Allow family or friends to pick up your meds from the pharmacy  
  • Have a plan for if you get sick
  • Ensure your family has an easy, reliable, and secure way to contact family members,  friends,  and health care professionals.
  • Video calls are especially beneficial because you can see your loved ones to gauge how they are doing. Connection matters now more than ever. By conducting meaningful, enjoyable video calls each day,  physical isolation does not have to mean loneliness.

Here is an important link to the CDC site on reducing your risk:

Even if you take all the precautions above, it is possible that you and/or your parents may get sick. The symptoms of COVID-19  are fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

What do you do if you or your parents contract the coronavirus?

Follow these 3 steps laid out by the US Center for Disease Control:

  1. Stay home and call your doctor and let them know about your symptoms.
  2. If your doctor determines that you can recover at home. Follow CDC instructions for how to take care of yourself at home. Click on the underlined sentence to go to the CDC site. It is a great and up-to-date source of information.
  3. Get medical attention immediately if you or your parent have any of these warning signs
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

Thinking about emergencies like those listed above can be disconcerting, and even downright scary. But with advanced age comes the wisdom needed to keep calm.

Knowledge is power. Knowing how best to reduce your risk of contracting the virus increases your odds of staying healthy. Knowing what to do if you get sick can ensure a prompt and appropriate response. The majority of people who contract the coronavirus recover from it. Here’s to your health and the health of older adults around the world.

Very Sincerely,

Dr. Kerry
Chief Gerontologist