Most cases of COVID-19 are described to be mild. The majority of those who get it might experience dry cough, sore throat, loss of taste and smell, body pains, and maybe a fever. Some may never show any symptoms at all.
However, to a significant number of people, COVID-19 will send them straight to the emergency department. An infection causes difficulty breathing, depriving their lungs and the rest of their body of precious oxygen. Some reach oxygen levels that are so low; they need to be placed under mechanical intubation to survive.
COVID-19 has already claimed the lives of millions of people around the world. While many have already received immunity through vaccination, breakthrough cases occur, especially now that there is a new virus variant.
The Next Crisis
While the current pandemic is still far from over, many public health experts fear the long-term effect of COVID-19.
Many infected people continued to experience symptoms long after they were confirmed positive for the illness. Mild cases typically recover after two weeks of symptom onset. More severe cases take six weeks to recover. But, to a percentage of those who caught the virus, symptoms last from six months to over a year after initial infection.
The condition is called long-haul COVID and, two years into the pandemic, much is still unknown. Long-haulers report experiencing cough, shortness of breath, joint pain, chest pain, muscle pain, fatigue, difficulty thinking or concentrating, pounding heart, headache, and intermittent fever.
It does not matter if their bout with COVID-19 was severe or mild. It is still unclear why people get it or continue to experience symptoms long after the initial infection. There is also currently no approved treatment for long-haul COVID.
Long-Haul COVID: a Condition for Older Adults
Older adults have been hit the hardest by COVID-19. In the U.S. and around the world, the overwhelming majority of severe cases and deaths are among people above the age of 50. Being older and having an underlying chronic illness such as hypertension and type-2 diabetes are common risk factors for hospitalization due to COVID-19.
Moreover, scientists have found that older adults are at a higher risk of experiencing long-lasting symptoms of COVID-19, too. Up to about 80 percent of patients are so-called long-haulers, and those who are at least 50 years old are more likely to report lingering symptoms, especially if they spent time in the intensive care unit.
Among the symptoms that older adults continue to experience at least three months after initial infection include fatigue, brain fog, elevated heart rate, shortness of breath, loss of smell and taste, and insomnia. Moreover, they are prone to loss of appetite, confusion, anxiety, and depression. Those hospitalized for more serious symptoms also suffer from the post-intensive-care syndrome, which affects cognition, and critical neuropathy, which leads to weakness of the limbs.
Experts explain that when young people become ill, they are generally in much better health, to begin with than older adults. While an 18-year-old can easily recover from a 20 percent hit to their cardiovascular endurance, a 60-year-old has less reserve and, therefore, would experience the impact more pronouncedly.
A Scary, But Common Consequence
Doctors are also monitoring cases of delirium, another common consequence of severe COVID-19. A recent study involving 150 hospitalized patients revealed that as much as 73 percent had delirium. It is more likely to occur in sicker patients with co-morbidities and more severe illnesses.
Delirium is characterized as a disturbance of a person’s mental state, causing agitation, confusion, and inability to think clearly. COVID-19 reduces oxygen intake, which has adverse effects on the brain. Moreover, scientists have previously found signs of inflammation in the brain concerning COVID-19. These factors contribute to a higher risk of delirium.
In addition, because of restrictions, doctors are often unable to perform treatment for delirium. They cannot bring familiar items or people into the patient’s hospital room for obvious reasons.
Long Wait for Recovery
For seniors, recovery from COVID-19 takes months and years. Some found themselves forced to retire early to manage their symptoms. Others have to apply for disability benefits because their symptoms prevent them from working.
Families should consider long-COVID when moving their elderly loved ones to a care facility. A senior living guide or advisor can give them recommendations of facilities equipped to deal with the long-term effects of illnesses on the elderly. Aside from monitoring, seniors who continue to experience symptoms of COVID-19 may require physical therapy, mental health evaluation, exercise, a well-balanced diet, and regular medication to fast-forward their recovery.
COVID-19 continues to cause devastation around the world. Millions have already been infected and hospitalized, but more are catching the virus. The long-term effects of the illness are only just emerging.