Prepare Yourself

Precautions essential for elderly in fight against COVID-19.

As if the elderly didn’t have enough health concerns already, the unexpected rise of the coronavirus has now added to their burden. Though it clearly does not discriminate, COVID-19 does take particular aim at the aged. They are more likely to have a worse time fighting off the infection.

Since the virus was identified in humans in late 2019, doctors and scientists have learned the risk for severe illness increases with age and among those with other medical conditions, with older adults at highest risk.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 80 percent of the deaths related to COVID-19 involved patients 65 and older. The CDC also notes people 65 and older (those of Medicare age) account for more than 70 percent of those hospitalized by the disease.

“What those numbers tell us, especially if you’re elderly, is that you have good reason to be concerned about this virus,” says Marc S. Berger, MD, a geriatrician for Hourly Medical Consulting who specializes in advising the elderly on medical concerns.

“If you are 65 or older and you get COVID-19, there is about a one in 20 chance that you will die from it. And the chances that you will wind up having to go to a hospital for treatment are about one in three.

“Of those who go to the hospital, about four of every 10 will require treatment in an intensive care unit. We’re also finding that many of those who recover from the virus suffer long-lasting physical damage as well as mental and emotional harm.

“That’s the case for about seven out of every 10 people who have significant problems. Sure, they may recover. But after 30 days in an ICU, they’re no longer the same person they used to be.

“For some, there may be ongoing complications after recovery such as loss of taste, permanent fatigue or even stroke. And some patients may require even more medical treatments down the line.

“Not only that, but anyone hospitalized by this virus, even for a short period of time, will likely accumulate an incredibly expensive hospital bill. So there are a lot of problems, other than mortality, associated with this virus.”

Take Precautions

While people await a safe vaccine, the CDC says avoiding large groups, handwashing, social distancing and wearing facemasks remain the best weapons that anyone, no matter their age, can use in fighting off the virus. Dr. Berger agrees.

“Taking precautions will not automatically prevent someone from getting the virus, but it will decrease their chances,” he emphasizes. “So when consulting with someone, I typically suggest that they take reasonable precautions.

“There’s no reason to drive yourself crazy. You want to avoid making your life and someone else’s life miserable, but that doesn’t mean you need to live in a bubble and refuse to go out. You can take reasonable chances. Just be smart about it.”

When Dr. Berger says it’s OK to take “reasonable chances,” he means that it’s OK to go the grocery story, visit the dentist or doctor if necessary, or even visit family and friends. When doing so, though, he advises following
medical guidelines.

Those strategies call for properly wearing a facial covering that always covers your nose, wearing glasses, goggles, visors or even sunglasses to protect from coronavirus particles floating into your eyes, washing and sanitizing your hands correctly as often as possible, avoiding large gatherings, and staying at least six feet away from anyone you don’t live with on a daily basis.

Dr. Berger says following those instructions may be the key to keeping yourself and others healthy.

“What you need to remember about wearing a mask is that it doesn’t necessarily protect you from getting the virus; it protects others from getting the virus from you,” Dr. Berger emphasizes. “So by wearing a mask you’re being polite toward others. You should request people you are out with to use good manners, like keeping their noses covered. Other persons can spread the virus for days before they know they have it.

“As far as social distancing goes, again, you need to be sensible. Too many people are looking at this as an all-or-nothing phenomenon. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can visit your grandchildren or have them visit you online if possible but be sensible about in-person visits.

“If you’re elderly or visiting someone who is frail, stay more than six feet apart, don’t hug or kiss them, and have everyone wear a mask and eye protection. And asking people to cough or sneeze into their elbows is no longer enough. By doing those things, you are definitely decreasing your chances of getting the virus.

“But keep in mind that these precautions are not an absolute protection. Bad things sometimes happen to good people even when they’re doing the right thing. That’s the nature of this virus. But you can greatly reduce the chances of that by being smart.”

Do The Smart Thing

Dr. Berger further notes that with winter just ahead, one of the smartest things anyone – especially the elderly – can do right now is reduce their chances of catching the flu, pneumonia or any other condition that has symptoms similar to COVID-19.

By doing that, the doctor reasons, a person can help a physician rule out those illnesses and conclude sooner the person has COVID-19 and needs to be treated as such.

“One of the biggest problems that physicians are facing right now is that early COVID-19 cannot be distinguished from a COPD exacerbation, pneumonia, influenza, the common cold, or even an asthma attack,” Dr. Berger explains.

“So the smart thing to do is to get your flu shot, get your pneumonia shots, get everyone in your family to take a flu shot. That way, if you have a fever of 101 degrees and you’re coughing, you know you better get a COVID test.
“And if you’re feeling ill, you should always call your doctor first. They may advise you to go to an urgent care or emergency room for testing and treatment because there isn’t anything they can do for you in their office.”

“Again, this is all part of being cautious and taking precautions, which is another way of being polite. This is a virus that can spread rapidly from person to person if we don’t take precautions and use good manners, so we need to become a more polite, well mannered society again.

“A lot of the elderly in our country remember when people were polite, when we looked out for one another. We need to get back to that. We need to become more polite and treat others with respect, that’s for sure, now more than ever.”

 

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