What is Long Covid & How Can Seniors Protect Themselves?

long Covid

There’s no doubt COVID-19 changed the world as we know it. For the last few years, countless individuals have suffered through coronavirus symptoms, known someone who had it, or even lost friends and loved ones to the virus. Even with the development of effective vaccines, there are still those who contract COVID on a daily basis and fight its symptoms-- generally over the span of a week or so.

But there is a growing group of individuals who suffer from symptoms long after the virus should be gone. There are so many that this group of sufferers now has a name: long-haulers. These are the people who have what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls “long Covid.”

What is Long Covid?

Millions of individuals have not fully recovered from the effects of the coronavirus. Long Covid is defined as “ongoing or new health problems that occur at least four weeks after a Covid infection.”[1] But there is no diagnostic test to confirm the problem – in fact, a person with long Covid might actually test negative for the virus. There is no standard way that doctors can describe it and no diagnostic criteria to point to that might help them make a diagnosis. There’s no sure-fire way to predict who might get long Covid. Though it might seem to make sense that someone who has significant symptoms from the initial infection would have some lingering symptoms, this might not actually be the case, as some with long Covid were actually asymptomatic when they first contracted the virus, only to see long Covid symptoms emerge weeks or months later.

Of particular interest to seniors, current research seems to indicate that elderly adults are more likely to develop long Covid than younger or middle-aged adults. According to the BMJ, the Journal of the British Medical Association, 32% of older adults in the United States develop long Covid[2].  The incidence might be even higher than that; a study reported in The Washington Post found that 50% of those who suffer from Covid face lingering symptoms.

This is not a simple condition. In fact, as of July 2021 the Americans with Disabilities Act considers long Covid to be a potential disability.

What are the Symptoms of Long Covid?

The CDC has identified at least 26 common symptoms of long Covid. The most common symptoms include[3]:

·         Fatigue

·         Shortness of breath

·         Muscle and joint pain

·         Elevated heart rate

·         Sleep disorders

·         Brain fog

Brain fog is a collective term for a variety of problems with attention, concentration, language, and memory.

Less common symptoms can include[4]:

·         Cough

·         Chest pain

·         Palpitations and/or tachycardia

·         Headaches

·         Joint stiffness

·         Diarrhea

·         Abdominal pain

·         Burning or prickling sensation throughout the body

·         Feeling lightheaded

·         Unexplained fever

·         Poor endurance

·         Generalized pain

·         Rash on various parts of the body

·         Mood changes

·         Impaired mobility and daily function

·         Irregularities with menstrual cycles

·         Loss of taste or smell

·         Post-exertional malaise

That last symptom, post-exertional malaise, is the worsening of symptoms after even minor exertion – physical or mental – that can last for days or weeks. This is also a significant symptom of chronic fatigue syndrome.

Though many of these symptoms might often be attributed to other conditions, it can be especially frustrating when the symptoms are blamed on simply growing older. In many cases, long Covid symptoms come on suddenly, within a matter of days or weeks, not over the span of years during which normal aging occurs.

And some of these symptoms can be quite severe. For instance, those who suffer from fatigue might also face anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. Those who have trouble breathing might have damaged lungs that require oxygen treatments. New cases of type 2 diabetes might appear in those who never had it before, and in those who did, their blood sugar can become very difficult to control[5].

Since the symptoms of long Covid can be so unusual and change so quickly, it’s important to be able to reach out for help the moment you need it. Waiting for help could make a bad situation much worse. That’s why an emergency response solution from Alert1 is so critical in these uncertain times. If you begin to feel symptoms that concern you, especially those that might be more serious conditions – such as heart palpitations, severe shortness of breath, chest pain, and the like – press the medical alarm button to get help to your doorstep within minutes.

Even if you have a family or professional caregiver, an affordable medical alert wristband, watch, or pendant is still a valuable tool that saves precious moments that would otherwise be spent trying to reach for the landline or cell phone. In an emergency, every second counts.

Does Long Covid Lead to Dementia?

It’s a possibility in extreme cases. James Jackson, the director of long-term outcomes at Vanderbilt’s Critical Illness, Brain Dysfunction, and Survivorship Center, estimates that “about a third of those who are older have some degree of cognitive impairment” following a battle with Covid[6].  Seniors who become severely ill with Covid can develop delirium, which is often a precursor to dementia. It’s also possible that the brain can suffer from oxygen deprivation or inflammation, two conditions that are tougher for older adults to recover from and can eventually lead to cognitive decline. The numbers aren’t just anecdotal; studies have found that 13% of Covid patients aged 65 and older showed evidence of dementia one year later[7].

What Causes Long Covid?

It’s hard to know what actually causes the condition, but there are theories. During a Covid infection, the body might mount a dysfunctional immune response, much like it would if you had an auto-immune disease. The result can be ongoing inflammation, which can then lead to complications throughout the body, such as weakening of the heart muscle, abnormal heart rhythms, blood clots, high blood pressure, damage to the vascular system, and issues with the lungs, brain, kidneys, and other organs. There might be reservoirs of the virus still lurking in the body, flaring up at unexpected times and leading to the symptoms of long Covid[8].

According to the American Medical Association, how bad those issues get can vary widely from one person to another. The exposure you’ve had to the virus and the level of the viral load can determine how severe the initial illness might be. After that, a person’s past medical history, any acute or chronic conditions, the age of the person, and their health habits all contribute to the severity of the infection. Some individuals will have a higher inflammatory response to the virus – though no one knows why just yet – and those who have a stronger inflammatory response might suffer from more severe or extended symptoms. Additionally, it is now being theorized that one’s chances of getting long Covid increase with every re-infection—yet another reason to try to prevent getting the virus.

How Can I Reduce My Risk of Long Covid?

Though there is no clear answer for this yet, some interesting studies have found that those who are initially asymptomatic and later develop long Covid saw their symptoms dissipate after getting the vaccine. However, breakthrough infections for the vaccinated seem to have the same rate of long Covid as for those who weren’t vaccinated. It’s still important to get the vaccine, as it has been shown to clearly lead to milder disease, and a far decreased risk of hospitalization and death[9].

Those who are at higher risk of developing long Covid include[10]:

·         Those who did not get the vaccine or boosters

·         Those who had underlying health conditions before they got a Covid infection

·         Those who had a severe infection, especially those who were in intensive care

·         Those who suffered from multisystem inflammatory syndrome during or after the infection

·         Those of racial or ethnic minorities (especially those who face health inequities)[11]

Given the risks of developing long Covid, the best defense is to prevent getting infected in the first place. The following tips can help you and others stay as safe as possible from the coronavirus throughout the ongoing pandemic[12]:

·         Get your vaccinations and your boosters on time

·         Wear a mask anytime you are in a crowded public place

·         Avoid crowds if possible, and stay out of poorly ventilated spaces

·         If you have been exposed to Covid or you are showing symptoms, take a home test or contact your doctor immediately for prompt treatment

·         Wash your hands often with soap and water

·         Use hand sanitizer with at least 70% alcohol if soap and water is not available

·         Cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue to protect others

·         Monitor your health every day, including your temperature

·         Clean high-touch surfaces in your home with an approved disinfectant

If you do develop Covid, get in touch with your doctor immediately and follow their advice to the letter. Monitor your symptoms, get rest, stay hydrated, and take over the counter medications (as directed by your physician) to make the symptoms easier to handle.

If you suffer from shortness of breath, chest pain or any other symptoms that might constitute a medical emergency, don’t hesitate to press the button on a medical alert device. Getting in touch with help in an emergency is absolutely crucial, as it could mean the difference between a bad outcome and a good one. When you press the button, you will be connected to a trained agent, who will send whatever help is needed. This might include family, neighbors, friends, or members of your medical team. If the situation is dire, the agent will get in touch with emergency services, who will show up at your door ready to care for you. Your health might depend upon quick action, so keep a medical alert pendant handy and press the button alarm anytime you feel it’s necessary to get help fast, at any hour of the day or night.

As always, Alert1 wishes you health and safety!