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Why Are Elderly People More at Risk from Coronavirus?

May 04 2020

By Lora Blandon

One of the most troubling statistics surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic is that nursing homes and other houses for the elderly are being harmed more than other places. The first outbreak of the coronavirus in the United States was in a Seattle-area nursing home. Since then, many nursing homes have experienced dramatic virus outbreaks, including many in the New York City area. 

But why is it that these places are being hit the hardest by the coronavirus? There are many points that need to be explored.

Inability to Fight Infections

One issue surrounding the elderly and coronavirus entails how it is harder for older people to fight infections. The body’s T-cells are critical for managing immune system responses. But as a person ages, the body does not produce as many T-cells. The thymus signals the production of these cells. But that part of the brain stops working as efficiently by around the age of 40 to 50.

Because there are fewer T-cells, the body is incapable of managing viruses. It becomes harder for the body to react to harmful viruses like coronaviruses. Older people will be at greater risk due to the concern.

Excess Responses

Some older adults may also experience elevated immune system responses. An older person with a weaker immune system may experience what is called a cytokine storm.

Cytokines are proteins produced by the immune system. The proteins signal various actions in the body, including signals to fight infections. But as the immune system weakens, it becomes easier for it to produce excess cytokines. The cytokine storm that results will produce threats like excess inflammation and an intense fever. Organ failure may occur in the worst cases.

Elevated Symptoms

Some of the more common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever and shortness of breath. These symptoms become amplified in the elderly.

People who are older tend to experience various underlying factors that can make common COVID-19 symptoms more severe. These include factors like diabetes, lung disease, and cardiovascular disease. People who have had transplants in the past may be at even greater risk.

Such existing conditions can weaken the organs, thus keeping them from defending the body during an infection. Various treatments for such conditions may also prevent the immune system from working as well.

Are Poor Conditions a Threat?

Conditions inside nursing homes could be a factor for why so many older people are dying from COVID-19. Many nursing homes might be crowded with residents and employees. It is often difficult to keep these places clean, thus making the situation worse.

Is Isolation a Concern?

One valuable point that deserves note surrounding the elderly and the coronavirus entails the social lives of seniors. Many older people who are in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities don’t get as much interaction with others as they wish.

It is possible for people to feel healthier if they experience enough social interaction. The added brain stimulation may help in stimulating the brain into producing the chemicals and proteins needed to fight infections. A person will also have an elevated mood and feel encouraged if that person gets enough interaction with other people.

Can Things Be Controlled?

It is possible for older adults to be protected from the coronavirus if they are careful. People should consider things, like washing their hands with soap and water before eating, after using the bathroom and after sneezing. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers should also be utilized to stay clean.

People should also clean any surfaces they regularly use. These include surfaces like a counter, table or even a mobile device.

It also helps to avoid places with significant numbers of people if one is ill. Anyone whose immune system may be compromised should also avoid crowded areas. Such sites might be dangerous to those who are at risk.