How COVID-19 Affects Older Adults

Texas A&M experts from the Center of Translational Research in Aging and Longevity offer recommendations for how seniors can stay healthy during the pandemic.
By Heather Gillin, Texas A&M University College of Education & Human Development April 8, 2020

Senior man looking outside from home window
Adults ages 65 and older are considered at high risk for becoming infected with COVID-19.

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People aged 65 or older are considered at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention*.

Experts in the Texas A&M University College of Education & Human Development’s Center for Translational Research in Aging and Longevity in the Department of Health and Kinesiology, Dr. Nicolaas Deutz and Marielle Engelen, offer answers and recommendations for older adults during the current pandemic.

“Older adults naturally often have accompanying chronic diseases or conditions such as pre-diabetes, obesity, atherosclerosis or even more severe diseases like cancer, chronic heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” Deutz said.

When older adults with underlying conditions also experience malnutrition, it affects their immune system negatively. Deutz said malnutrition is common when older adults experience disease and it is important to identify malnourishment in these patients.

“As older adults with an already activated immune system cannot handle the additional burden of the coronavirus, they are at higher risk of deteriorating health and even dying,” Deutz said.

Engelen advises older adults to increase daily intake of vitamins, minerals and protein through diet. Foods like nonfat plain Greek yogurt are ideal for older adults because they are easy to eat and contain a substantial amount of protein.

“When it is not possible to meet these needs with regular food intake, people should start taking nutritional supplements,” Engelen said.

Protection against COVID-19 is based on reducing or prohibiting contact with infected people and surfaces they have touched. Deutz said this is especially important for older adults because of their increased risk of prolonged illness or dying.

In addition to self-quarantining, he advises older adults to maintain activity levels to boost overall health, increasing their ability to fight the virus.

“There is a lot of research available that shows when people are active and perform activities throughout the day and maintain a healthy, nutritious diet, they will remain in a good condition that can better cope with infections like the coronavirus,” Deutz said.

It is easy to live a sedentary lifestyle when stuck at home. Engelen said this can be detrimental for older adults who need to maintain muscle mass and decrease fat through physical activity to positively impact their immune system.

“Regular physical activity at home like walking around the house, stair climbing, stand-to-sit and sit-to-stand from a chair, chair squats, sit-ups, pushups and gardening will have a positive effect on the immune system,” Engelen said.

Deutz and Engelen also encourage older adults to utilize health apps and seek exercise videos to maintain fitness at home.

* This link is no longer active and has been removed.

This article by Heather Gillin originally appeared on the College of Education & Human Development website.

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