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#CoronaCurious: the elderly and the coronavirus

#CoronaCurious: the elderly and the coronavirus

FIU geriatrics expert Dr. Jorge Camilo Mora answers common questions the elderly and their caregivers have about coronavirus.

March 31, 2020 at 3:05pm

Members of the FIU community are asking smart questions about the coronavirus every day. So each week, FIU News will tackle some of the questions and get you the answers.

In this issue, FIU geriatrics expert Dr. Jorge Camilo Mora answers common questions the elderly and their caregivers have about the coronavirus. 

Is it true that older adults are more susceptible to COVID-19?
Yes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 8 out of 10 deaths reported in the U.S. have been in adults 65 years or older.

The elderly are at higher risk for any infection because they have a weaker immune system and many suffer from chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, kidney and lung disease. Older people who contract COVID-19 are more likely to develop a severe illness. 

This does not mean that younger people should drop their guard! 

The best advice for everyone is STAY HOME! Venture out only if you have to for essentials.

Does the pneumonia vaccine and influenza vaccine help against the coronavirus? 
No, but you should still get them.

Vaccines against pneumonia, such as the pneumococcal vaccine, do not protect against coronavirus pneumonia. Neither does the flu shot. However, the vaccines help reduce the number of people who need hospitalization, and that frees up health care resources for people with COVID-19.

Is it safe to get groceries during senior shopping hour?
Many grocery stores and major retailers are offering dedicated hours for elderly and high-risk customers, usually early in the morning. The intention is to allow vulnerable customers the opportunity to shop when stores are less crowded.  You still have to make sure to keep your distance—at least 6 feet—from other shoppers.

Is it safe to get food deliveries or take out?
It’s the people, not the food you need to worry about.

“Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19,” according to the CDC. Whether you’re picking up take-out or having food delivered, maintain social distancing to avoid being exposed to someone infected. However, be mindful that the virus can remain viable 12-24 hours on cardboard, and up to 72 hours on plastics. You need to discard these materials and wash your hands before eating.

What do I do if my medications run out?
Don’t wait to get your refills until your medications run out.

Many drugstores have delivery service; find out if your pharmacy delivers. If you must go to the pharmacy, avoid peak hours--you don’t want to be standing in line for an hour.

And don’t forget to keep your DIS----TANCE!

Is it okay for elderly to go out on a walk?
Sure. Walking is excellent exercise and can provide a welcome change of scenery, but don't forget to keep your distance!

Why are nursing homes not allowing family visits?
They are trying to protect nursing home residents who are at higher risk of severe complications if they become infected. They can’t run the risk of visitors spreading the virus. Family members can stay in touch remotely. You can call each other by phone, the old fashioned way, or use a video calling service like FaceTime or WhatsApp. If the nursing home patient is not bedridden, they may be able to get to a door or to an outside area where family members can see them and at least wave from a distance. In some cases, you may be able to see each other through a window.

How can the elderly fight stress, anxiety and depression of isolation?
Don’t suffer aloneReach out! 
Reach out to family, friends, neighbors, your doctor.

Patient privacy regulations have been relaxed. Health care providers are now allowed to consult with patients through FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, Zoom, or Skype. If you are feeling stressed, please don’t hesitate to call your health care provider. 

Some communities have set up call centers which can be helpful— some (like the City of Miami) can even hook you up with at-home coronavirus testing. 


Jorge Camilo Mora, MD, MPH, is director of Geriatric Medical Education at the FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine.