COVID-19 and older adults tip sheet offers story ideas, resources

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News, the Connecticut Health I-Team and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Photo: Emil Kabanov via Flickr

There’s still a lot we don’t yet know about the novel coronavirus, but one thing is clear: older adults are among those at highest risk. A majority of deaths worldwide from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, have occurred in the 60-plus population. U.S. health officials are advising anyone over 60, or those with serious chronic medical conditions, to stay home for the next month.

Nursing home residents are especially vulnerable, as the death toll in a facility near Seattle sadly proves. Many facilities are on virtual lockdown, banning visits from families and other non-essential visitors. Assisted living facilities also are limiting visitors, since the risk of infection and death increases with age and co-morbid conditions. More than 70 million Americans ages 50 and older — four out of five older adults — suffer from at least one chronic condition, according to AARP. In their Health Beyond 50 report they note, “more than half of older adults have more than one chronic condition, and 11 million live with five or more  chronic conditions.” No wonder health experts are worried.

As this disease spreads, mayors, governors, state and local public health officials, the NBA and even Disneyland are taking steps to help minimize risk. While these actions may help mitigate transmission of the virus, they also present some unique challenges for older people. Should they keep that doctor’s appointment? Still take that dream vacation? Go to the senior center for lunch, which may be their only hot meal of the day? Is it safe to see the grandkids?

For reporters working this beat, there are dozens of story angles about older adults and COVID-19 to pursue. A new AHCJ tip sheet pulls together some pertinent facts, including guidance from CDC experts, and takes a look at some key issues of concern. From protocols at the local nursing home to what family caregivers need to know, there’s a story and an expert (or several) ripe for reporting. Links and suggested experts are included.

It’s an evolving list, so if you know of additional resources or specialists, drop me a line or share it in the comments section below.

3 thoughts on “COVID-19 and older adults tip sheet offers story ideas, resources

  1. Roxanne Nelson

    What I am wondering about, and it hasn’t been made clear anywhere, if its just age–or the fact that many older adults do have comorbidities and everyone is lumped together. No one has mentioned or discussed if a healthy 65 year old, who has no comorbid conditions, who is not overweight, eats healthy and exercises, is at a higher risk of dying of COVID-19? Or is it just assumed that because a person reaches a certain age, that they automatically have a chronic disease? I know many older adults who are healthier than people half their age, so it would really be important to tease that at, rather than saying that anyone over the age of 60 has to stay in their house–which is completely impossible for many to do.

  2. Doug Levy

    It’s both. My understanding both from the literature and from spending an afternoon 10 days ago with one of the infectious disease docs on the front lines is that immunity weakens with age under normal circumstances, so greater risk for older adults would be expected with any infection. This infection seems to hit people with underlying lung disease (asthma, emphysema, history of smoking, etc.) especially hard. It also seems to affect people with diabetes harder. So, it’s a combination of the prevalence of comorbidities among older adults and the weakened immune systems. Because of the lack of testing, it’s very hard for us to get more precise numbers based on the US experience, which may differ. With that said, there have been some severe or critical cases in the US among younger people, including an otherwise healthy 40 year old, so there’s more to this virus than we yet know.

  3. Ruth Taber

    So older adults at a higher risk – therefore, in their usual wisdom, Dr. Fauci announced testing in record time (fastest ever with new vaccine) on group of people up to age 55! I don’t blame Dr. Fauci – but it’s the norm for most pharma testing.
    And – added interesting note: my neighbor recently returned from a South American cruise on Viking – both she and husband had the Covid-19 illness. His was relatively mild (he’s a physician) and she had a great deal of trouble breathing, coughing and assorted symptoms – but – NO FEVER!!! So there we are with all the temperature taking???

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