Seniors face distinct challenges when it comes to long Covid, a condition characterized by a myriad of symptoms persisting for months after the initial infection. Despite being less frequently diagnosed, older individuals are more susceptible to specific types of ailments associated with the virus, as indicated by research.
Patricia Anderson, a 66-year-old medical librarian from Ann Arbor, Michigan, shares her tumultuous journey with long Covid, describing it as a “roller coaster.” Before falling ill in March 2020, she led an active lifestyle, practicing martial arts and walking extensively. The virus severely impacted her, causing a range of symptoms including extreme chills, respiratory issues, and cognitive decline, which rendered her unable to read for several months. Although she has regained some of her cognitive and physical abilities, the recovery is slow and accompanied by persistent fear and anxiety regarding her work situation and health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports a decrease in long Covid cases among American adults, with current data showing about 11% affected, a drop from nearly 19% in the previous year. This decline suggests a gradual recovery for some individuals over time. Interestingly, people above 60 have lower incidences compared to the 30-59 age group, possibly due to higher vaccination rates and adherence to protective measures. However, the exact reasons remain partly unclear, with potential biological factors yet to be understood, notes Akiko Iwasaki, a researcher at Yale School of Medicine.
Long Covid can manifest after mild or severe Covid infections, affecting individuals of all ages, including children and seniors, and impacting almost every organ system, says Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly from Washington University School of Medicine. His research highlights that older adults are more vulnerable to specific clusters of symptoms, including metabolic and cardiovascular issues, gastrointestinal disorders, and neurological problems.
Jane Wolgemuth, a 69-year-old retiree, narrates her struggle with cognitive issues following a Covid infection in June 2022. Despite initial recovery with the help of the antiviral Paxlovid, she later experienced significant brain fog, affecting her reaction time, especially while driving. She has been managing her symptoms through supplements and light therapy, gradually improving her physical condition.
Dr. Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio warns that seniors might misattribute long Covid symptoms to aging or other existing health issues, potentially overlooking the need for appropriate treatment. Moreover, long Covid can aggravate pre-existing health conditions, escalating mild impairments to more serious problems.
Preventive measures against Covid remain crucial, with Dr. Al-Aly emphasizing the importance of vaccinations, boosters, and timely medical intervention, including the use of Paxlovid, to reduce the risk of developing long Covid. However, the treatment landscape for long Covid is still evolving, lacking specific medications to reverse the condition. While some rehabilitation strategies have shown effectiveness, a shortage of experienced programs and clinics, coupled with a tendency among some doctors to dismiss long Covid symptoms, leaves many patients navigating their recovery paths largely independently.
In response to the growing need for focused research and support, the Biden administration has initiated a federal office to spearhead long Covid research. Meanwhile, patients find solace and assistance in groups such as Long Covid Support and the Covid-19 Longhauler Advocacy Project, where they share experiences and advocate for more research and better treatment options.
Sheila McGrath, a 71-year-old from Herndon, Virginia, shares her ongoing battle with long Covid following a second infection. Together with Ms. Anderson, she co-hosts an online chat for Long Covid Support, providing a platform for individuals to share their frustrations and seek validation and understanding as they grapple with the often debilitating and misunderstood condition.