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March 22, 2020

Protecting older people from Coronavirus

National

March 22, 2020

Islamabad: People over 60 years of age, and especially over 80 years, are particularly vulnerable to severe or fatal infection. As cases of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) continue to rise worldwide, researchers have learned that older adults may be particularly susceptible to the respiratory illness, which can cause pneumonia and symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath. Amid the uncertainty swirling around the pandemic stands one incontrovertible fact: the highest rate of fatalities is among older people, particularly those with underlying medical conditions. Experts attribute some of the risk to a weakening of the immune system with age.

Early data suggest older people are twice as likely to have serious COVID-19 illness. This may be because immune systems change with age, making it harder to fight off diseases and infection. Older adults also are more likely to have underlying health conditions that make it harder to cope with and recover from illness. In addition, people of all ages, with or without disabilities, seem to be at higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19 if they have serious chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease.

This leaves older people and their families wondering what extra precautions they should take. Several best practices have been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, geriatricians and infectious diseases specialists.

Reducing exposure is especially important for people at higher risk of complications. Who is at higher risk? Early information out of China shows that some people are at higher risk of getting very sick from this illness. This includes older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease.

If you are at higher risk, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you stay at home as much as possible if COVID-19 is spreading in your community; and make sure you have access to several weeks of medications and supplies in case you need to stay home for prolonged periods of time.

What actions should you take to reduce your risk of getting sick? If you are at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19 because of your age or because you have a serious long-term health problem, it is important for you to take actions to reduce your risk of getting sick with the disease.

Take everyday preventive actions: wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, or having been in a public place; if soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol; avoid touching high-touch surfaces in public places—elevator buttons, door handles, handrails, handshaking with people, etc.; use a tissue or your sleeve to cover your hand or finger if you must touch something; clean and disinfect your home to remove germs: practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces (for example: tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks and cell phones); avoid crowds, especially in poorly ventilated spaces; avoid all non-essential travel including plane trips, and especially avoid embarking on cruise ships; be sure you have over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies (tissues, etc.) to treat fever and other symptoms. Most people will be able to recover from COVID-19 at home; and have enough household items and groceries on hand so that you will be prepared to stay at home for a period of time.

Community preparedness planning for COVID-19 should include older adults and people with disabilities, and the organizations that support them in their communities, to ensure their needs are taken into consideration. Many of these individuals live in the community, and many depend on services and supports provided in their homes or in the community to maintain their health and independence.

In terms of family and caregiver support, it is essential to know what medications your loved one is taking and see if you can help them have extra on hand. There is also a need to monitor food and other medical supplies (oxygen, incontinence, dialysis, wound care) needed and create a back-up plan. Non-perishable food should be stocked to minimize trips to stores.