Seniors and COVID-19: UCHealth physician offers answers

By Anthony Welch

Dr. Hillary Lum, who specializes in Geriatric Medicine at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital took a few minutes to answer questions about the Coronavirus.

Life After 50: Are seniors at certain age more at risk for the Coronavirus? 50 up? 60 up?
Lum: As a general statement, the older a person is, the more at risk they are for coronavirus causing symptoms and potentially even serious illness. Based on published studies from China, Italy and emerging data from the U.S., individuals in their 80s, 70s, and 60s are at higher risk, though this is very closely related to underlying chronic conditions that they may have. It is very important for seniors to continue to manage their conditions by taking their medications as prescribed, and making plans to not run out of their medications.

LA50: What symptoms should seniors watch for?
Lum: The Health In Aging Blog, created by the American Geriatrics Society, shared “Five Things to Know Right Now about Coronavirus Disease.” https://www.healthinaging.org/blog/five-things-to-know-right-now-about-coronavirus-disease-covid-19/
In general, COVID-19 causes a respiratory illness that ranges from mild to severe, though for some it can be deadly. Symptoms, which usually appear 2 to 14 days after someone gets infected, can include:
• Fever
• Cough
• Shortness of breath
If you have these symptoms, call your healthcare professional first, before visiting an office, an urgent care or an emergency room. If you develop significant new or worsening difficulty breathing, call 911 immediately.
Let the 911 operator know that you may have COVID-19 symptoms.

LA50: Do you happen to know the percentage of seniors diagnosed with the virus across the country?
Lum: I’m not aware of this data. Much of the national data is collected from state reporting. State and county-level reporting is currently often number of people tested and whether the test was positive or negative. A person’s age, gender, or medical condition are not frequently reported.

LA50: What extra measures should seniors take to fight off illness? (also from https://www.healthinaging.org/blog/how-to-practice-social-distancing/)
Lum: Seniors, just like all others, are currently being strongly urged to practice social distancing. Even if you don’t know someone who has actually caught the virus, because of limited ability to test everyone, it is possible that individuals are asymptomatic and able to pass the virus to others.
Social distancing means strictly limiting our contact with the outside world and keeping about six feet apart from other people. In fact, social distancing is the most effective action we can take to curb this potentially deadly virus.
On a daily basis, here are ways to minimize the spread of COVID-19 include:
• Practice social distancing
• Avoid taking public transportation or making non-essential trips
• Work from home if possible
• Avoid social gatherings
• Don’t patronize bars, restaurants, or movie theaters or visit places where people gather
When you must make essential trips, such as to the grocery store, pharmacy, or other public spaces:
• Use a disinfectant wipe to cleanse anything you touch or use a tissue/napkin as a barrier
• Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and don’t touch your face
• Most importantly, wash your hands vigorously and frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (sing “happy birthday” twice) as soon as you return home
I also encourage seniors to equip themselves with clear and accurate information.
Here are great resources for older adults, family caregivers and health care professionals who care for older adults: https://www.johnahartford.org/dissemination-center/view/coronavirus-disease-covid-19-resources-for-older-adults-family-caregivers-and-health-care-providers
The Kaiser Family Foundation’s COVID-19 Outbreak Glossary, provides definitions to words that are often used in the news. Other reputable sources of information specific to older adults include AARP, Family Caregiver Alliance and Alzheimer’s Association.

LA50: With all the gloom and doom in the news, do you have any positive news about the virus that can give seniors hope?
Lum: Many seniors are committed to remaining connected to one another, their families of choice, communities and neighbors, even during these times. I regularly text with my neighbors who are in their 70s and 80s. I see friends having extended family online weekly video check-ins.
A patient recently shared how, despite the adult day center being closed, she is now friends with other attendees that they have remained connected by phone even when the day center is closed.

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