With coronavirus sweeping the world, it’s important to know how it affects older adults. It is well-known that older adults are at higher risk for developing coronavirus, and should follow social distancing, sanitizing, and sheltering in place as much as possible. But since the virus has evolved, doctors have discovered new symptoms of COVID-19 in seniors that are disturbing. What are these new symptoms, and what do you need to know?
COVID-19 symptoms specific to seniors
The main symptoms of coronavirus that were first reported were fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath, along with muscle pain and flu-like symptoms. But what are the more unusual symptoms you need to know about? According to guidelines from the University of Lausanne Hospital in Switzerland, common symptoms in eldery patients are falls, delirium, fever, low blood pressure, painful swallowing, and gastrointestinal issues.
Another report from Kaiser Health News notes that symptoms in older patients can include sleeping more, not acting like themselves, loss of appetite, weakness, dehydration, apathy and confusion, loss of orientation to surroundings, dizziness and falls, and failure to speak. Coronavirus affects older adults differently since their immune response and central nervous system respond differently than younger people. Some cases in seniors appear to be trauma or stroke at first, and turn out to be COVID-19.
Unusual coronavirus symptoms in older adults
Here are a few of the other out-of-the-ordinary symptoms to look out for. Many are mild and will go away within a few weeks. Any of these symptoms might appear alongside other symptoms, or by themselves.
- COVID toes. These are pink, red, or purple lesions on the toes that cause burning, itching, and swelling. These can occur as an early symptom, a late symptom, or as the only symptom of coronavirus. Researchers are not sure exactly why this is occurring. The good news is that many who develop COVID toes are recovering fully at home and not developing other complications.
- Gastrointestinal symptoms. Many older adults experience diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite. Older people and those with heart disease, obesity, and diabetes are commonly seeing these gastrointestinal symptoms, sometimes in conjunction with confusion.
- Loss of taste and smell. These have become common markers of coronavirus. Some scientists conjecture that the virus is actually affecting the nerves involved in smell and taste, or other cells in the lining of the nasal passage. The good news is that these symptoms fade in two to four weeks, and that people who experience these symptoms tend to have a milder case of the virus.
- Blood clots. In many cases blood clots are a symptom of coronavirus, even in people who are usually not prone to clots, and even in those who take blood thinners to prevent clots. Clots in small blood vessels can cause minor rashes, while clots in the lungs, heart, or brain can cause major complications such as pulmonary embolism, heart attack, heart infection, or stroke.
- Neurological effects. Many older adults experience dizziness, headache, and confusion. These side effects are harder to recognize in older adults, and can be confused with dementia or Alzheimer’s. It’s important to look out for new confusion or disorientation, which can be signs of COVID-19.
Sometimes it is hard to tell whether the symptom is actually due to COVID-19 or something else. If in doubt, see a doctor about getting tested. If they tell you no and the problem persists, keep calling back. As always, if you think you might have the virus, it’s important to remain at home if you can.
Because COVID-19 is a new disease to which our bodies have no immunity, the virus has free reign in where it goes and how it can affect the cells, which could explain all the varying symptoms of the disease. Report your symptoms to the COVID Symptom Study to help researchers gain more information about coronavirus symptoms.