By now, more than two months into the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., many of us feel pretty familiar with the most common symptoms of COVID-19, and we think we know what to look out for. But now as doctors gather and analyze a growing mountain of case data, they’ve made an unsettling discovery. It turns out that, when seniors are infected with the virus, they can often manifest their illness in completely unexpected ways. Doctors and families have got to be on their guard in order to get elderly patients diagnosed and treated in time.
Atypical COVID-19 Symptoms Can Keep Seniors from Getting Timely Treatment
This story, written by Judith Graham, was published on the website of Kaiser Health News, but we came across a reprint of the article in the Seattle Times. As Graham reports, for senior patients, the familiar list of virus symptoms is woefully inadequate. She writes, “Older adults with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, have several ‘atypical’ symptoms, complicating efforts to ensure they get timely and appropriate treatment, according to physicians.” There are three primary warning signs of COVID-19, says the article – fever, an insistent cough and shortness of breath. “But older adults — the age group most at risk of severe complications or death from this condition — may have none of these characteristics.”
Sometimes, says the Kaiser report, a senior infected by the coronavirus first appears to be sick when they stop acting like their normal selves. “They may sleep more than usual,” Graham writes, “or stop eating. They may seem unusually apathetic or confused, losing orientation to their surroundings. They may become dizzy and fall. Sometimes, seniors stop speaking or simply collapse.” None of these makes the list of common COVID-19 symptoms.
Atypical COVID-19 Symptoms Are the Result of the Physiology of Aging
Doctors agree that seniors show an atypical range of symptoms because of older physiology. An aging body responds to illness and infection differently from their younger counterparts. The Kaiser article quotes one geriatrician, Dr. Joseph Ouslander from Florida Atlantic University, who says seniors have a different immune response which may mask signs of infection. Their body regulates temperature differently. They may have a much different cough reflex as a result of underlying health problems. All this makes the usual “big three” list of symptoms cited above – fever, cough, and shortness of breath – completely inadequate.
The need for fast and accurate diagnosis is critical, says Graham. “Recognizing danger signs is important: If early signs of COVID-19 are missed, seniors may deteriorate before getting needed care. And people may go in and out of their homes without adequate protective measures, risking the spread of infection.”
Due to Atypical COVID-19 Symptoms, It Took Three 911 Calls to Get Help
One Atlanta geriatrician told Graham that she treated a man in his 80s back in mid-March. “Over a period of days,” the article explains, “this patient, who had heart disease, diabetes and moderate cognitive impairment, stopped walking and became incontinent and profoundly lethargic. But he didn’t have a fever or a cough. His only respiratory symptom: sneezing off and on.” On two occasions the patient’s wife called 911 and both times the paramedics checked his vital signs and said he was okay. Finally, after the third frantic call, the doctor insisted the man be hospitalized and tested for COVID-19. He was positive.
Sometimes older patients are discovered to have COVID-19 after becoming weak and dehydrated – then they stumble and injure themselves. Other doctors report seeing “older adults who are profoundly disoriented and unable to speak and who appear at first to have suffered strokes” – the result of the way the coronavirus can affect the central nervous system.
If Worrisome Symptoms Persist Without Explanation, Get Your Loved One Tested
Drowsiness, cognitive impairment, disorientation, nausea, and diarrhea have all been linked to older men and women testing positive for the coronavirus. Graham adds, “So far, reports of cases like these have been anecdotal. But a few physicians are trying to gather more systematic information.” One doctor in Switzerland examined data from three European countries and published a list of both typical and atypical symptoms among elderly COVID-19 patients. The atypical list included delirium, falls, fatigue, lethargy, low blood pressure, painful swallowing, fainting, abdominal pain and the loss of smell and taste.
There are many conditions that can trigger these symptoms, Graham reminds us, especially symptoms like fatigue or disorientation. “Someone may be just having a bad day,” one physician told Kaiser Health News. “But if they’re not themselves for a couple of days, absolutely reach out to a primary care doctor or a local health system hotline to see if they meet the threshold for (coronavirus) testing.” And families may have to keep trying. “Be persistent. If you get a ‘no’ the first time and things aren’t improving, call back and ask again.”
Two Important Retirement-Planning Announcements from AgingOptions
At AgingOptions our chief desire is to help you prepare for the kind of retirement you’ve always dreamed of having. Toward that end, we want to share two important announcements that are designed to facilitate your LifePlanning process even during this period when most of us are required to avoid gathering in groups.
First, Rajiv Nagaich has scheduled several of his popular, free LifePlanning Seminars in the form of webinars that you can watch conveniently at home. Simply visit our Events Page and register for the webinar of your choice.
Our second announcement: in cooperation with our partners at LifePoint Law, we are excited to launch a ground-breaking new service called the LifePoint Law Emergency Legal Kit. Without leaving your home, you can now consult with a LifePoint Law attorney who will work with you to prepare and sign a complete set of vitally important legal documents including both Financial and Healthcare Powers of Attorney, a Living Will/Advance Directive, a Will or Trust, and much more. Click on the link or call us at AgingOptions and we’ll explain this excellent service to you.
Reliable information has never been more important – and that’s our promise to you at AgingOptions and LifePoint Law. Age on!
(originally reported at www.seattletimes.com)