The particular susceptibility of old people to COVID-19

Updated - March 21, 2020 11:12 pm IST

Published - March 21, 2020 11:04 pm IST - Senior geriatrician

V.S. Natarajan, senior geriatrician

V.S. Natarajan, senior geriatrician

In India, the first three deaths due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) were among the elderly. There might be a number of reasons for the potency of such viral infections in old age, one being ageing itself as the immunity levels drop after the age of 50.

Secondly, multiple diseases – high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney diseases, strokes and cancer – are responsible for lowering the immunity. Thirdly, taking multiple drugs such as steroids and chemotherapy agents will definitely reduce the immunity. The fourth is the lack of proper nutrition. Elderly people, including in the rural areas, do not take a nutritive diet. So, more than one factor is responsible for lower immunity in elderly persons, putting them at high risk of infections.

Unlike earlier, we see that the immunity levels go down at the age of 50 as diseases start at the age of 40. This is why the older population picks up infections easily.

Normally, we see pneumonia that is commonly caused by bacterial infection. That is different. Coronavirus induces two major problems – chest infection and renal problems. Chest infection causes cough, breathing difficulty, and phlegm leading to respiratory failure. The lungs of a 20-year-old man are much better than the lungs of a 60-year-old. So, this is the reason for deterioration of health. Coronavirus affects the lung, causes pneumonia and when pneumonia is not treated properly or persons do not respond to treatment, they go for respiratory failure and should be put on ventilator. Approximately 30% of persons affected by COVID-19 died due to kidney failure.

How can we protect ourselves? Elderly persons should avoid going out. Stay indoors, no small walks, no visits to parks or shops. Within the house, it is important to take care as children can easily transmit the infection to the grandparents.

They should always use a tissue or handkerchief when coughing or sneezing, and wash hands on returning from outside. In case of mild temperature or sore throat, they should isolate themselves immediately, and consult the family physician. It is important to keep all existing diseases such as diabetes under control.

They can drink hot water, and take a diet that helps in improving immunity. Gooseberry that is an anti-oxidant and rich in vitamin C, citrus fruits such as orange and lemon, nuts such as almonds, bitter gourd, honey, curd and mushroom, could boost immunity.

If they start adding such food a little more to their diet, the immunity levels will start rising after two or three weeks. Many of them are house-bound and not exposed to sunlight. As a result, many of them have low vitamin-D levels.

So, they can try and sit just outside their homes or walk within the premises for 30 minutes in the morning and evening for exposure to sunlight.

If elderly persons take all these precautions, they can be safe.

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