COVID-19 and the Elderly: What You Should Know

An elderly woman talks to her doctor
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You support your elderly family members and loved ones in little ways all the time. With coronavirus spreading, the older adults in your life need to take extra care to stay safe and well. The more you know about how coronavirus affects the elderly, the better prepared your family can be to give them the support they need.

Older Adults Face a High Risk of Severe Illness From COVID-19

Along with people of any age who have chronic health conditions, older adults face a higher risk of getting severely sick from the coronavirus, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

From what we know about coronavirus cases, older adults have the most severe cases. Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease, updated the public on coronavirus and the elderly. “This seems to be a disease that affects adults. And most seriously older adults.”

“Starting at age 60, there is an increasing risk of disease and the risk increases with age,” she continued, “the highest risk of serious illness and death is in people older than 80 years.”

The CDC states that of COVID-19 deaths reported in the U.S., 8 in 10 have been adults who are age 65 and older. Of adults with confirmed COVID-19, over 30% of adults ages 65 to 84 years old require hospitalization, with more than 11% of adults in this age group needing to be in the intensive care unit.

Dr. Messonnier also explained that the people who face the highest risk also have health conditions like:

However, getting coronavirus doesn't necessarily mean an older adult will develop life-threatening illness. And even though they face a higher risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19, older adults can take simple steps to keep themselves safe and healthy.

How Older Adults Can Stay Safe During the Coronavirus Pandemic

In her telebriefing, Dr. Messonnier gave specific advice for older adults. If you have an elderly loved one in your life, you can help them with each of the steps Dr. Messonnier recommends:

  • Buy enough household goods and groceries to last for a couple weeks
  • Have a supply of prescription medicines and over-the-counter medicines
  • Have a stock of routine medications, like those for high blood pressure and diabetes
  • Stock your emergency kit with medical supplies to treat fever

For older adults and the elderly, Dr. Messonnier also recommends precautions like:

  • Avoiding leaving home, as much as possible
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
  • Follow social distancing guidelines (stay 6 feet away from others)
  • Washing your hands often, for 20 seconds each time

For more recommendations, watch the CDC’s video on what older adults need to know to stay safe from coronavirus, told by Jay Butler, the CDC’s Deputy Director for Infectious Diseases.

“These are the kind of recommendations that I have made to my parents,” Dr. Messonnier said, explaining how her family is taking these precautions seriously, and encouraging yours to do the same.

How to Help Keep Your Elderly Loved Ones Safe

In her public address, Dr. Messonnier encouraged listeners to work together, noting that slowing the spread of COVID-19 is everyone’s responsibility. “Everyone has a role to play to protect our family members, friends, colleagues and neighbors who are most at risk,” she said in the telebriefing.

To help keep your elderly loved ones safe and well, the CDC recommends developing a care plan with them, which may include:

  • A summary of their health conditions
  • A list of their current prescription medications
  • A list of their health care providers
  • An advance directive
  • Emergency contact phone numbers

If your loved one is in a care facility, you can call and ask about their current protocol. Senior living facilities, nursing homes and similar facilities are likely taking steps to protect their residents and care teams, including:

  • Checking health care workers and residents for COVID-19 symptoms regularly
  • Encouraging residents to stay at home as much as possible
  • Limiting or canceling activities to slow the spread of coronavirus
  • Restricting all non-essential visitors

Here for You and Your Loved Ones

We’re dedicated to seeing your family through this pandemic. Visit our our Coronavirus Resource Hub for regular coronavirus updates, answers to your FAQs and more important information for your family.

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