Why is the Coronavirus Most Dangerous to the Elderly

The Coronavirus... for those of us in healthcare and working with elders - it is top of mind. The coronavirus is most dangerous to elders. Why? As we grow older, we are more likely to have other chronic health conditions which make it harder for our bodies to fend off damage caused by a new pathogen. Second, our immune systems change with age and the coronavirus encourages older immune systems to kick in with extra inflammation, which can have a cascading effect of health degradation. Unlike the flu, which has higher fatality rates in both young children and older adults, coronaviruses tend to only be more dangerous for seniors. In a paper published on Jan. 29, 2020, scientists writing in the New England Journal of Medicine recorded zero cases of 2019-nCoV in children 15 and under. This doesn’t mean that children are immune to the virus, but they may be better at fighting it off if they’re otherwise healthy (Adler, AARP, 2020).

So how can elders best protect themselves from the flu and the coronavirus? There are two ways. First, wash your hands with soap and warm water. Before eating, after being in public, after shaking hands – this could mean 5-10 hand washings a day – the more the merrier. Second, think about exposure.  Rather than have my 91-year-old mother wait in line at the pharmacy surrounded by sick people, our family picks up her prescriptions for her. Rather than expose her to his heavy cold, my brother video calls our mom each morning on her GrandPad. GrandPad is a secure tablet that was designed with, for, and by elders. My sister who lives in another state, video calls our mother most days. When you are well, and in close physical proximity, wash your hands and visit in person as often as possible. If you are not feeling well or are far away, the next best thing is a face-to-face, quality video call. I’m the Chief Gerontologist at GrandPad and we are proud to have connected over a half a million humans via their GrandPads. If you have any questions about the coronavirus and elders or about the GrandPad, leave a comment below and I will respond. Together we can ensure the safety, dignity, and autonomy of all our aging society.