Seniors With Covid-19 Show Unusual Symptoms


Seniors With Covid-19 Show Unusual Symptoms

Fever, cough, fatigue, and shortness of breath were initially among the prominent symptoms that identified the coronavirus virus 2019 disease (COVID-19). Now, doctors have discovered that older adults are displaying symptoms that are not typical of COVID-19.

When the coronavirus pandemic first hit the United States, public health officials warned that adults over 65 years old with underlying health conditions, such as lung disease, heart disease, and diabetes, were at a higher risk of developing COVID-19. In the following months, atypical symptoms for older adults have been added to the list.

Age-related changes, chronic impairment, or past neurological disorders, such as a stroke, may be among the reasons why older adults present different COVID-19 symptoms, according to Dr. Joseph Ouslander, a professor of geriatric medicine at Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt College of Medicine.

What’s more, older adults with cognitive impairment may not be able to describe their symptoms, Ouslander said.

Dr. Quratulain Syed, a geriatrician in Atlanta, told Kaiser Health News that she treated a patient in his 80s who had COVID-19. The patient, who had heart disease, diabetes, and moderate cognitive impairment, did not have a fever or a cough. He stopped walking, sneezed off and on, became incontinent, and was extremely lethargic.

The patient’s spouse called paramedics on two separate occasions, Syed said, and both times the patient’s vital signs did not indicate any problems. After the third call from the spouse, the doctor insisted that the patient go to the hospital. It was there that he tested positive for COVID-19.

Syed said she was concerned that the paramedics who checked out the patient, and health aides who had been in the house did not have personal protective equipment because they did not realize the patient had a COVID-19 infection.

Symptoms in Older Adults With COVID-19 Infection

Not only are U.S. doctors seeing atypical symptoms of the coronavirus in older adults, but their European peers are seeing the same symptoms in their patients.

Dr. Sylvain Nguyen, a geriatrician at the University of Lausanne Hospital Center in Switzerland, gathered data from nursing homes and hospitals in Switzerland, Italy, and France on COVID-19 symptoms presented by older adults.

Nguyen made up a list of atypical symptoms from the information he collected. The symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Delirium
  • Fainting
  • Falls 
  • Lethargy
  • Low blood pressure
  • Painful swallowing

Nguyen plans to publish the data in a paper in the Revue Médicale Suisse (Swiss Medical Journal).

Dr. Laura Perry, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco, examined a patient that had a combination of atypical symptoms and typical symptoms listed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Perry told Kaiser Health News, that she thought the patient, who is in her 80s, had a cold. After the patient became very confused, the patient was admitted to the hospital.

Perry said the patient did not know where she was or was able to stay awake during an examination. Perry said she diagnosed the patient with hypoactive delirium, but the patient tested positive for COVID-19.

Confusion and the inability to stay awake are among the COVID-19 symptoms listed by the CDC. Other symptoms include:

  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Cough
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Fever or chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • New loss of taste and smell
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle or body aches

The CDC says symptoms generally appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus.

COVID-19 Upset Seniors’ Daily Routine

Older adults may also show atypical symptoms because of the impact the pandemic had on their lives. For instance, the daily routines of older adults were suddenly changed when the coronavirus shut down the country.

Seniors were directed to shelter in place to avoid exposure to the virus. Doctors believe the physical condition of older adults may have weakened because of a lack of activity.

For example, older adults in nursing homes and assisted living residences could no longer walk to and from the dining hall or to other community activities that were canceled because of COVID-19.

Older adults who live independently may not be getting the help they need because family members and friends have restricted their visits. Seniors, then, may not be taking their medication as they should or may not be getting in-home visits from home health aides.

Dr. Camille Vaughan, section chief of geriatrics and gerontology at Emory University, suggests that older adults in social isolation may be becoming apathetic or depressed.

Vaughan encouraged older adults who have not felt like themselves for a couple of days to contact their primary care doctor or a local health system hotline to determine whether they should get tested for COVID-19.


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