Post COVID-19 lockdown, protecting the elderly is crucial, say experts

Senior citizens must continue to take precautions even after restrictions are lifted, doctors say

Published - May 06, 2020 02:24 pm IST - CHENNAI

A senior citizen seen collecting relief material earlier this month. Photograph used for representational purposes only

A senior citizen seen collecting relief material earlier this month. Photograph used for representational purposes only

Lower immunity levels and co-morbidities put the geriatric population at a higher risk for coronavirus disease (COVID-19). This is why doctors have been stressing the need to protect the elderly from the infection from the start of the epidemic, and more importantly, say that precautions should continue once the lockdown is lifted.

In Tamil Nadu, less than 10% of patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 are above the age of 60. As of Tuesday, 336 persons -- 221 men and 115 women -- have tested positive for COVID-19, accounting for 8.2% of the total positive patients in the State. The majority of the fatalities have occurred in the older age group of above 50 years old.

Senior geriatrician V. S. Natarajan said elderly persons were more affected due to their lower immunity levels; the reasons being multiple diseases and intake of medications. “If you take the global census, 70% of the persons affected are above 60 years. Eighty-three percent of persons who died had more than one ailment. A co-morbid condition is the most important factor in the elderly and is responsible for mortality. The common ailments are diabetes, asthma, renal disease and cancer,” he said.

G. S. Shanthi, head of department, Geriatric Medicine, Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital, said with the lockdown on, persons, including the elderly, are following certain precautions. “Once the lockdown is lifted, elderly persons still have to continue these precautions of self-isolation at home, wearing masks, avoiding exposure to those who cough or sneeze, and regular washing of hands. They need to maintain physical distancing especially with the younger persons, who will go out once the lockdown is lifted. These young persons may contract the virus, be asymptomatic, but they could be carriers,” she said.

In the last three days, the hospital was seeing more asymptomatic patients aged 20 to 50 years, she said, adding: “Only some have symptoms suggestive of COVID-19. We are isolating the younger patients from those who are above 50 years. They are in a different block as we need to protect the vulnerable population.”

“As more persons test positive without too many symptoms, we can expect herd immunity to develop. However, older persons have to be careful as their immunological response will be lower. They should avoid going out, including for walks and grocery stores. They should take care of their diet by including food items that can improve their immunity and seek medical care if needed,” Dr. Shanthi said.

If they are on regular medication for conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, heart, kidney or liver ailments, they should continue the medicines without fail to avoid complications, she added.

Dr. Natarajan said there was an increase in the anxiety levels among the elderly as they are unable to get advice from doctors on time due to the lockdown. Many were unable to go and get medicines from government hospitals, while some were unable to check their sugar levels and creatinine levels as many laboratories were closed.

“Without consulting the doctor, they should not stop the dosage or increase the dosage of medicines. Those who have suffered strokes, Parkinson’s disease and arthritis are unable to get physiotherapy. Their condition is getting aggravated. The caretakers should help them in taking up exercises for at least 10 minutes,” he added.

Some are also facing psychological issues. “There is fear of death, and loneliness due to restriction in movement. They could also slip into depression. The family members should counsel them and keep them engaged,” he said.

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