Older adults have been hit hard. 95% of all coronavirus deaths in the U.S. involved a patient who was at least 50 years old, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Older adults are also more likely to suffer from the virus's lasting effects, commonly known as long COVID.
Between 50% and 80% of all COVID-19 patients experienced symptoms three months after contracting the virus, and those who were at least 50 years old were more likely to report lingering issues, according to a post on the Harvard Health Blog.
AARP's recent article entitled “Older Adults Battle Long-Term Effects of COVID-19” explains that this is because younger people are typically healthier to begin with, says Dr. Aaron Bunnell, co-director of the University of Washington School of Medicine's Post-COVID Rehabilitation and Recovery Clinic in Seattle.
“When you come into an illness, your baseline affects your outcome,” Bunnell says. “A 60-year-old man has a different cardiopulmonary reserve than a 20-year-old. If you take a 20% hit to your cardiovascular endurance, the older man has less reserve.”
Patients with long COVID have reported a range of symptoms, such as fatigue, loss of smell or taste, insomnia, shortness of breath, brain fog and an elevated heart rate. The patients who spent time in an intensive care unit frequently had more severe complications and a longer recovery. Older adults with long COVID are prone to anxiety, depression, confusion and loss of appetite. Some sufferers of long COVID were forced to retire early or apply for disability benefits. That's because they can't function in their job because of exhaustion or difficulty with thinking and memory.
These senior's lives are in limbo, because so little is known about the treatment or prognosis for patients with long COVID. Specialized programs help streamline treatment, with all the patient's doctors working together in close consultation. This includes physical therapy to help patients improve their breathing and energy levels, as well as cognitive therapies to bolster concentration and mental acuity.
Experts say that long COVID patients should also get vaccinated because the vaccine protects them from getting sick again and may reduce long COVID symptoms.
In some surveys, up to a third of patients reported that their long COVID symptoms improved several weeks after vaccination.
COVID survivors should pay attention to their health. If you notice you aren't feeling well, and things are out of character physiologically, you need to take it seriously.
If you're diagnosed with long COVID, understand that life might not be the same, so dial back your expectations about what you are able to do now.
Reference: AARP (July 29, 2021) “Older Adults Battle Long-Term Effects of COVID-19”