Senior Health

One of the strangest things about COVID-19 is that some of its symptoms seem to be different for different groups of people. Thirty-five percent of people who are infected have no symptoms at all. If they do have symptoms, younger people seem to get a less severe case of COVID-19 than older people. However, in children under five, the coronavirus has been linked to Kawasaki disease, whose signs include a rash and swelling of the hands and feet.

As for older people, we know that COVID-19 is a serious threat. Older adults are at higher risk of developing severe complications of the disease. Eight out of ten deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the United States are people over 65. This group is hospitalized and admitted to intensive care at a higher rate, too. Part of the problem is that the coronavirus results in a more severe case of COVID-19 for people with underlying conditions like heart disease, lung conditions, and diabetes, which are more common in older people.

In addition to being more dangerous for seniors, doctors have noticed that the coronavirus produces some atypical symptoms in older people. It’s important to pay attention to these danger signs unique to seniors, in addition to the more well-known COVID-19 symptoms, so seniors can get tested and receive the treatment they need quickly.

The Most Common Symptoms of COVID-19

Fever, cough, and respiratory symptoms are the most common COVID-19 symptoms to watch for. Fever and a dry, insistent cough show up in most people diagnosed with the illness. Most patients also have difficulty breathing and shortness of breath. Sore throat, headache, chills, and muscle pain are also common symptoms of COVID-19.

Less Common Symptoms

Doctors warn that a new loss of taste or smell could be a sign that you have COVID-19. Another less common first symptom of the disease is diarrhea. It seems like patients that don’t have respiratory symptoms may experience diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain as their only symptoms. More severe symptoms, which require emergency attention, are pain or pressure in the chest, and bluish color in the lips or face.

Symptoms Unique to Seniors

After being infected with coronavirus, instead of showing the more common symptoms like fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, some seniors may seem “off.” They just aren’t acting like themselves. They may sleep more than usual or become confused. They may stop speaking, become dizzy, fall, or just collapse. It is relatively common for seniors to display atypical symptoms. Emory University gerontologist Dr. Camille Vaughan writes, “With a lot of conditions, older adults don’t present in a typical way, and we’re seeing that with COVID-19 as well.”

Doctors attribute these unique symptoms to older adults’ immune systems. When we age, our bodies react to illness and infection differently. Age affects our immune response and our ability to regulate temperature. This means that while a younger person’s immune system might stoke up a fever to fight an infection, an older person’s immune system might not have the same response. Instead, the response might trigger extreme fatigue, lethargy, confusion, or other neurological symptoms.

Dr. Sylvain Nguyen at Switzerland’s University of Lausanne Hospital Center has compiled a list of atypical COVID-19 symptoms for doctors and caretakers to look out for. In addition to loss of smell and taste, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and abdominal pain, this list includes lethargy, fainting, falls, delirium, low blood pressure, painful swallowing. Dr. Nguyen also advises doctors to carefully assess older patients and watch for any changes in their usual status. Any unusual symptoms could point to a possible case of COVID-19.