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By Dr. Lee Meyers
Assistant Professor of Clinical and Administrative Sciences

By now, many healthcare professionals are keenly aware of the most general symptoms of COVID-19, as stated by the World Health Organization. These symptoms include fever, insistent dry cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue. While these are common signs, there are also more serious symptoms of the virus such as difficulty breathing, chest pain or pressure, and the loss of speech and movement.

In addition, less common symptoms are becoming more familiar: chills, aches and pains, sore throat, diarrhea, conjunctivitis, headache, loss of taste or smell, a rash on the skin, and the discoloration of fingers or toes. It currently seems that older adults may present a much different list of COVID-19 symptoms. Therefore, it is possibly well-known that older adults demonstrate symptoms of diseases differently than younger adults, and this may again be the case with the coronavirus.

According to anecdotal reports written by geriatricians in a recent Kaiser Health News article, the typical signs of infection with the coronavirus may not be completely present in older adults who test positive for the disease. Vital signs may even appear normal, which consequently leads to a missed diagnosis. On the other hand, if left unrecognized and untreated, senior citizens are more prone to suffer from a series of events that can ultimately lead to a diagnosis of the coronavirus. This is because they find themselves in the hospital for a traumatic event and are later on tested for the virus. In further detail, senior citizens may fail to remain hydrated or fed, suffer a fall, become hospitalized, and even risk for being tested as positive for the coronavirus.

An early onset or sign that senior citizens may experience is if they are simply not exhibiting normal behavior. An example would be family members or caregivers reporting that the senior citizen may need more sleep or has a loss of appetite. Others may seem unusually apathetic, confused, dizzy, or lose orientation around their surroundings. Furthermore, the presence of other chronic diseases may confound or mask signs and symptoms of an infection, impair the individual’s ability to report, or even experience additional symptoms. Their symptoms may even appear to be in the form of another condition. At first, what might seem to be a cognitive disorder is in fact, the manifestation of a functional decline that initially begins with the coronavirus infection.

While anecdotal cases continue to be reported by geriatricians around the United States, data is being collected from hospitals and nursing homes in Europe as well. Much more must be learned on how and why the coronavirus is present in the elderly. Complicating factors in physiology, lifestyle, co-morbidities, and the psychosocial realm can significantly impact the sequence of events in the infectious process.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. It is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation that is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

About American University of Health Sciences

AUHS is a Christian based, minority-serving university, which educates students for careers in the healthcare professions. AUHS emphasizes the values of faith in God, love of humankind, and belief that all people have a right to healthcare and deserve a good quality of life based on the wellness of body, mind, and spirit. The university celebrates diversity and reaches out to groups currently underrepresented in healthcare and research. AUHS provides the undergraduate and graduate curriculum, hands-on practical training and supportive environment required to create competent and compassionate healthcare professionals.

American University of Health Sciences is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC), 985 Atlantic Avenue, Suite 100, Alameda, CA 94501, 510.748.9001.

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