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.