Coronavirus disease 2019, also known as COVID-19, was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization in March 2020. A pandemic is an epidemic that’s spread over several countries or continents and affects a large percentage of the population. Since it emerged in the United States, hundreds of thousands of cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed, and while many have recovered or are recovering, thousands have died.
COVID-19 seems to have a broad range of severity. In some people, infection with the virus causes no symptoms, and in others it causes a mild to moderate flu-like illness. But some people require hospitalization and even treatment in the intensive care unit, and some of these severe cases lead to death.
Residents and seniors in our communities, as well as their family members and caregivers, have asked questions about the effects of COVID-19 on the elderly. Here are some answers based on what we currently know.
Who Is at a Higher Risk for CoronavirusAnyone can get COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some people are at a higher risk for developing severe illness. These higher-risk groups include seniors 65 and older, as well as people with:
- Chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
- Serious heart conditions
- Conditions affecting the immune system, like poorly controlled HIV/AIDS, or those who have undergone a transplant, cancer treatment or otherwise take immune-suppressing medications
- Severe obesity
- Chronic kidney disease, or those undergoing dialysis
- Liver disease
What Should I Do if I Think My Elderly Loved One Has COVID-19?If your loved one develops symptoms such as cough, fever or shortness of breath, call their family doctor, a nurse helpline or a nearby urgent care facility. Some states and counties have dedicated COVID-19 hotlines. Check your state and county websites for more information.
Call 911 if your loved one has severe trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, newly developed confusion or inability to arouse, a blue tone to their lips or face, or a very high fever not reduced by medication.
When Should I Take My Elderly Loved One for Coronavirus Treatment or Testing?If you know your loved one has been exposed to the coronavirus or they have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call their doctor. Based on their symptoms and risk factors, the doctor can advise on whether your loved one needs testing and/or treatment. If your county has established a dedicated COVID-19 testing hotline and/or website, you can register for testing there as well as find out where to go.
To avoid exposing others to COVID-19, you should not bring your loved one to a doctor’s office, urgent care center or emergency room for mild to moderate symptoms without specific instruction from their doctor. Consider helping them set up a telemedicine appointment with their doctor if you have access to a computer or smart device.
What Should I Know About Coronavirus Testing?If your loved one’s doctor orders a test, they will go to the office or a testing facility. A medical professional wearing protective equipment will swab the inside of their nose with a skinny swab long enough to reach the upper part of the throat behind the nose. The test can be mildly uncomfortable, but it is similar to the influenza test and takes just a few seconds. Typically, you will get a result within a few days.
How Do you Contract COVID-19?COVID-19 is primarily spread from person to person through respiratory droplets from relatively close contact (within about 6 feet) with someone who is contagious, whether or not that person was symptomatic. In some cases, COVID-19 may be spread by touching a surface or object contaminated by the virus and then touching the mouth, nose or eyes. Symptoms typically appear between two and 14 days after exposure.
Can You Get Coronavirus Again Once You’ve Had It?In many cases, infection with a virus gives a person some level of immunity once they have recovered. Scientists are in early stages of investigating how long that immunity lasts in patients who have recovered from coronavirus.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Coronavirus in the Elderly?
From what has been learned so far from recovered patients in China, most people with mild illness should recover with no serious lasting effects. Those with more severe illness, but who recover without the need for a ventilator, will likely also have minimal long-lasting effects. Those who need ventilators are more likely to have some lung damage, and some may develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a severe lung infection in which fluid collects in the air sacs of the lungs. Some may develop lung tissue scarring, known as fibrosis, but because the virus is so new, studies are ongoing.
What Is the Treatment for Coronavirus?There is currently no established, effective treatment for COVID-19. People with mild to moderate symptoms recovering at home are advised to rest, drink plenty of fluids and take fever reducers, like acetaminophen, as needed. Over-the-counter cough medicines are also OK, and some people may be prescribed an inhaler or low-dose steroid for mild breathing issues.
Researchers are currently running clinical trials for medications that may help patients with COVID-19. People who are hospitalized may receive one or more of these experimental treatments, but their efficacy is not yet known. Those with severe illness may need oxygen supplementation or even to be put on a ventilator in the ICU.
Is Coronavirus Airborne?This is an ongoing area of study. Whether tiny droplets expelled when a person coughs, sneezes or even talks can remain airborne and infect people later is still not known. Direct exposure to respiratory droplets is the most likely route of transmission.
How Elmcroft Is Supporting Residents During COVID-19
The well-being of our residents’ minds, bodies and spirits has always been a top priority in each Elmcroft Senior Living community. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, that becomes a bit more challenging. That’s why we are taking these proactive steps to keep our communities safe and engaged.
Social EngagementOne of the benefits of living in an Elmcroft community is the opportunity for plentiful social engagement. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, we have to strictly limit or curtail our normal social and engagement activities and communal dining for all residents. In addition, independent living residents are required to practice social distancing and encouraged to remain on campus. However, we have initiated creative ways to provide opportunities for socialization that help keep our residents safe. For example:
- Virtual visits: Residents and their families appreciate our virtual visit programs. Tablets are in every community and our staff help schedule and facilitate these visits for our residents.
- One-on-one activities: Community staff continue to engage residents in one-on-one activities and ensure all residents are safe and comfortable. These activities can include reading together, taking a walk, playing cards and more.
Community EngagementBecause our communities are welcoming and engaging, it didn’t take long for residents and staff to come up with fun activities that increase socialization while adhering to important social distancing protocols. Some of these creative activities include:
- Walkie-talkie bingo
- Doorway exercises
- Pen pal letter writing
- Televised exercise classes and entertainment
- Enjoying outdoor pathways and garden areas with safe social distancing
We understand how challenging the COVID-19 pandemic has made life for all of our residents and their families. We will continue to focus on ways to guard our residents’ health and provide a comfortable and engaging atmosphere in all our communities. To see more ways that our residents are engaging with friends, family and staff during this challenging time, see our Facebook posts.
Check here often to stay up to date about COVID-19 and possible effects on our communities.