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Building immunity against COVID-19 in the elderly

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The deterioration of organs and reduced immunity to disease that occurs with age and as a result of congenital health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and respiratory disorders, all play a part in the increased fatality risk to the elderly population posed by COVID-19.
  • Elderly persons suffering from symptoms such as a fever, cough, sneezing, sore throat, exhaustion and breathlessness, should urgently receive medical advice. The best ways to do this are via phone call or Telemedicine.

 

The dangerous outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 strain of Coronavirus in China, which is the cause of COVID-19, has been found to place those over the age of 60 (especially those over the age of 80) who contract the disease at particular risk of death. The fatality rate for those over age 80 is as high as 14.8%, while the rate among those under age 50 is approximately 1%.

However, medical officials are as yet unable to identify a clear connection between advanced age and the severity of the disease. Instead they have merely suggested a correlation between the risk posed by the disease and age-related organ and immune system degeneration. Moreover, elderly people are more likely to suffer from congenital health conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and respiratory disorders, which also play a part in increasing their risk.

Preventing SARS-CoV-2 infections in the elderly

  • Both the elderly and their caregivers should frequently wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that you sing ‘happy birthday’ twice when washing your hands to ensure that you are taking the proper time to do so.
  • If you don’t have access to soap and water, it is advised that you use an alcohol gel with at least 70% alcohol content. Put some gel in your hands and follow the 7 key hand washing steps until your hands feel dry to the touch.
  • Stay at home. Avoid taking elderly people out to busy locations, including fresh markets, temples and supermarkets, and ensure they do not partake in group activities. If they must leave the house, make sure they wear a face mask at all times and wash their hands with soap or alcohol after they contact any foreign object or surface outside the home.
  • Avoid traveling on public transport, including buses and trains. If an elderly individual absolutely must travel by taxi, ensure they wear a face mask and immediately wash their hands with soap or alcohol gel upon exiting the vehicle.
  • Ensure they bathe, wash their hair, and change their clothes every time they return home.
  • Caregivers for the elderly should minimize the number of times they leave the house, and should wear a mask whenever doing so.
  • Provide a separate living space, including food, bedding and utilities, for elderly members of your household.
  • Anyone with a fever, respiratory symptoms or any other symptoms suspected as being caused by COVID-19 should avoid contact with the elderly by maintaining at least 2 meters of distance away from them at all times. If these people live with an elderly person, they should wear a mask and quarantine themselves from the elderly resident for 14 days.
  • Other family members who do not display any symptoms should shower and change their clothes before coming to visit elders.
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect surfaces daily, such as doorknobs, light switches, sofas and tables, especially in areas most frequented by the elderly person, such as the bedroom, living room and kitchen. Also, whenever possible be sure to open any doors and windows to allow fresh air and sunlight into the home.
  • Do not take the elderly to the hospital unless absolutely necessary. Make sure they continue taking medication for their chronic health conditions. It may be necessary to send someone else in their place to attend doctor appointments and to pick up prescriptions.
  • Elderly persons should wear a mask and seek medical attention immediately if they develop any of the following symptoms: a fever, a cough, sneezing, a sore throat, exhaustion and breathing difficulties. Only take them to hospital if the doctor advises you to do so.

Building immunity to disease

  • Quit smoking. The chemicals contained in cigarette smoke seriously damage lung tissue, leaving them weak. The risk of developing severe pneumonia is greater for smokers who contract COVID-19, as is the risk of respiratory failure.
  • Properly manage underlying chronic health conditions. Current data suggests that patients who suffer from obesity and other disorders that weaken the immune system, such as diabetes mellitus, are placed at greater risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19 than others.
  • Receive vaccinations as advised and according to your age, particularly influenza, pneumococcal and pneumonia vaccines. Patients who develop pneumonia as a result of a SARS-CoV-2 infection are at greater risk of contracting additional viral and/or bacterial infections that can cause their pneumonia to deteriorate further.
  • Eat a healthy diet consisting of freshly cooked foods. Healthy foods can help build up the immune system and give it the strength necessary to fight off viruses. Be sure to get plenty of vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants by eating fruits and vegetables of various colors while reducing consumption of sugar, fat, processed food and fatty meals.
  • Partake in light exercise, such as walking, stretching your arms, riding an exercise bike, swimming (if there is a swimming pool at home), impact-free aerobic dancing, yoga, or Thai dancing. Exercise should take place at home or in a well ventilated area for around 30–60 minutes each day.
  • Get at least 7–9 hours of sleep a night.
  • Reduce stress by partaking in fun and relaxing activities. Chronic stress can significantly affect the immune system and leave the body feeling weak.

Currently, there are no vaccines available for COVID-19. The disease continues to spread rapidly around the world and shows no signs of slowing down. Many of those who contract the disease are at risk of developing severe and potentially fatal respiratory disorders. The best way to protect yourself is to avoid any potential contact with the virus. Moreover, the elderly should not be taken anywhere near outbreak locations, and those who live with an elderly person should practice all relevant safety measures to ensure they do not bring the virus home with them.


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