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Older Adults and Coronavirus

Dr. Matthew Raider, MD Geriatric Medicine

Older Adults and Coronavirus

It’s been particularly hard on senior citizens lately.  I was very happy getting a senior citizen discount at the movies over the last few years, but alas, the theaters are closed.  On a serious note, it has been a difficult time in the health care of the elderly lately. If you are a caregiver or adult child of a senior—or if you are a senior yourself—here are some tips to dealing with Covid-19.

Some common questions:

Q. Why are older adults more at risk?

A. As we age, several changes take place. Some aspects of our immune system do not respond as strongly or as quickly to infections. Those more at risk appear to have diabetes and obesity.  Other risks include lung disease, heart, kidney and liver disease.

Q. How can I reduce my risk?

A. If you are in an area that is encouraging isolation, it is recommended especially for older adults. Keeping distance, avoiding going out, wearing a mask (bandana) outside, washing your hands frequently, and not touching your face are all helpful.  Getting enough sleep is helpful to your immune system.  If you can manage to get a bit of exercise, that is also beneficial.

Q. Are there medicines which may help me or be harmful?

A. Data is lacking. There is some evidence that taking non-steroidal drugs like Advil, ibuprofen, and Aleve may be linked to more serious disease.  Vitamin C and zinc are being used by many healthcare workers, but again, good studies are lacking.

Q. What if I get sick?

A. Call your health care provider. If you are not feeling too sick, it is suggested you stay home.  If you do not have the coronavirus infection, you might pick it up in the emergency room or at your doctor’s office.  If you have access to Telemedicine, that is another option.  You should try to stay away from others in your household as much as possible.

Q. As an older adult, will I always know if I am infectious?

A. No. Studies indicate that many older adults, even those with serious chronic illness, have been infected and contagious, but had no noticeable symptoms.

Q. I’m not really worried about myself. Should I still quarantine if that is recommended?

A. Since you may be contagious to others, social distancing is a good idea as you may be asymptomatic and could still infect others.

Q. What kills the virus?

Q. Coronavirus is easy to catch and easy to kill. Soap and water works great. So does 60%+ alcohol gels, household cleaners, hydrogen peroxide, and a normal wash/dry cycle to clean/disinfect clothes.  Anti-bacterial soaps are not better than regular soap.

Q. I am getting cabin fever and feeling despondent. What should I do?

A. Try to connect with those around you in any way possible. My 92-year old mother is confined to her apartment in NYC, but she just learned to play bridge online.  Keeping your spirits up is good for your immune system and overall health.  Try to be grateful – an attitude of gratitude has been shown to be helpful in many medical situations.

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