FAQ: Coronavirus and Older Adult Patients
Last updated April 22, 2020
If you or one of your loved ones is a UCSF older adult patient, get answers here to important questions about coronavirus (COVID-19) and how to minimize your risk of infection.
Are older adults more susceptible to the virus that causes COVID-19 compared with the general population?
There is evidence that older adults (over age 60) – especially those with cancer, diabetes or cardiovascular disease – are more susceptible and at higher risk of getting very sick from this illness. People living in senior communities (such as assisted living or nursing homes) are at particularly high risk due to the increased ability for viruses to spread rapidly in this environment. Older adults with additional medical problems (heart disease, diabetes, lung problems, and potentially dementia) are at the highest risk. Please see the CDC's specific guidance for older and adults and people with chronic conditions like heart disease, lung disease and diabetes.
Do the symptoms of COVID-19 differ in older adults compared with the general population?
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath. Older adults may not have these typical symptoms, and may instead have more vague symptoms like fatigue or confusion. In some cases, COVID-19 infection evolves into more severe symptoms, which can include shortness of breath, pain/pressure in the chest, new confusion or sleepiness, or bluish color of the lips or face. These are emergency warning signs for which you should seek emergency care.
Are older adults at increased risk for severe illness, morbidity or mortality from COVID-19 infection compared with younger adults?
Reports suggest that older adults are at increased risk for severe illness, morbidity and mortality, and that risk increases with increasing age and certain comorbidities (other medical problems) like heart disease, lung disease and diabetes.
How can older patients help prevent infection?
Older adults and other high-risk patients should engage in usual preventive actions to avoid infection, including cleaning hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer, avoiding people outside of their immediate household or those with COVID-19 exposure or infection, and staying up-to-date on vaccinations, including influenza vaccine.
In addition to these important preventive actions, higher-risk adults should stay at home as much as possible ("social distancing"), avoid crowds and stock up on necessary supplies/medications (try to recruit a friend or family member to help with this). It is advised to avoid all nonessential travel, including plane trips and cruises. Social distancing can lead to loneliness and isolation, which can also be detrimental to your health. It is critical to still connect with others (e.g., via telephone, video call or email) to reduce loneliness. The Institute on Aging offers a free 24/7 Friendship Line: 1-800-971-0016. You may also go for a walk outside, in an uncrowded area, and should still try to stay active at home.
If leaving the home for groceries and medications, ideally shop when the stores are less crowded, and be sure to wash your hands well both before and after. Even better, ask a family member or friend to drop off groceries and medications at your door.
How should I manage my need for routine medical care for chronic conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic?
UCSF and your providers are able to offer telehealth visits, in which you can interact with your provider via video and receive management recommendations without coming to the clinic. The first step to setting this up is to activate your MyChart account, and call your provider's clinic to set up the visit. Setting up telehealth is less daunting than you might think, and we are here to help you get started! Consider recruiting a friend or family member to help set up your phone, tablet, or computer for the first visit. At the current time, we recommend video visits for routine, nonurgent medical visits. If you are unable to do a video visit, we recommend postponing nonurgent visits. Your clinical team is also available to respond to your questions via MyChart and telephone. We can also see you in a face-to-face visit for urgent issues that cannot be resolved via telehealth, telephone or MyChart.
If possible, we recommend keeping at least a one-month supply of medications for chronic conditions. Your insurance company may limit the amount you can keep on hand; in that case, consider using a mail-order pharmacy. Keep over-the-counter home remedies available in case you need to treat fever at home. We recommend acetaminophen for fever, as this is safe for most older adults
Advance care planning is an important element of routine medical care, and this is a critical time to ensure that you have completed your advance directive. Talk to your doctor about this, and head to PREPARE for Your Care to create a plan today.If you are caring for an older adult with dementia, the Alzheimer's Association provides useful tips and information.
UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.