Home Health Glenn Ellis Ellis: Protecting our Elders and Seniors during COVID-19

Ellis: Protecting our Elders and Seniors during COVID-19

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By Glenn Ellis

Are we doing enough to protect the seniors in the African Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic?

We all know that the primary “classic” symptoms of COVID-19 are fever; cough; shortness of breath. What most do not know is that in senior and elderly populations, none of those symptoms may appear, and the person could be infected with the virus.

From historically continuous data and evidence, we know that, particularly, for older African Americans, chronic conditions are disproportionately higher than other groups, resulting from inequities in the social determinates of health. Many of us have been accustomed, long before coronavirus, to supporting, caring for, checking on any number of older people in our lives who have long-standing chronic conditions, or those brought through the aging process.

Now, we are in an era where COVID-19 has brought on new considerations for ours, as well as theirs. We go through the fundamental processes of creating a safe world for our seniors.

My focuses in this column is two-fold: we need to understand more about how COIVD-19 symptoms can show up in seniors and elderly, in ways that we would most likely overlook…until it could possibly be too late.

My second point is to address what I’m noticing is a pattern across the country in many black homes; the challenges many older African Americans, who have adult children in the household are facing during this pandemic.

First, the way the virus can hit seniors, and what they need to look out for.

It’s not just COVID-19 that puts seniors’ health at greater risk in older age, all illnesses and sickness present new challenges. As we age, our immune systems become “sluggish” and the reactions to infections are different. We also can have difficulty regulating the body temperature. So, as you can see, looking for a fever in a senior that you are checking on could be a useless effort.

As time has passed during this pandemic, what is now known is that there are some unique symptoms that are now identified in senior and elderly populations. Of course, like everything else, African Americans are feeling the brunt. Carrying the burden of a disproportionate share of chronic conditions in this country makes matters worse.

One prominent symptom that is being seen more and more in older African Americans is when the person starts to seem a little “off.” They may become confused, become disoriented, or not know where they are in their own home. This is very tricky, because it can easily be the result of any number of complications associated with a pre-existing condition.

Another symptom is the absence of a cough in a senior who might be infected. For some elderly, particularly those who may have had a stroke in the past, the cough reflex can sometimes be affected, so the person may not be able to cough in a way that is consistent with the cough associated with COVID-19.

Be aware of a sudden increase, or start, with falling or losing their balance. But, please know the difference when someone is just having a bad day.

And finally, the challenges many older African Americans, who have adult children in the household are facing during this pandemic. With no exaggeration, I have spoken with one, or both, parents in seven different families, all across this country, who are filled with anxiety over the adult child living with them, coming and going.

In all of the situations, the adult child does all the things to ensure a safe environment for their parent(s)…Except not go in and out attempting to maintain some degree of their pre-COVID-19 social life. This hurts me almost as the 17 friends I have lost in the past couple of months to COVID-19.

Hey, young people, I get it. I was young once too; but this is life and death. Stop, and take a minute, and just look at the anxiety and fear, in the face of your otherwise calm and cool parent. Listen to yourself when you try to justify why it’s ok for you to go out when they raise their concern. Listen how you try to reassure them that you “are not around anyone when you go out” and that you social distance” and “wear your mask”.

I’m not buying it. Your parents, and other elders deserve better. They deserve to live. Think about them, instead of yourself for a change…for real. You’ve done a pretty good job of scaring, I mean making sure that they don’t want to go out. If what’s out there is important enough to risk your parents’ life and/or health, maybe you really should stay there. I’m just sayin’.

If you know that your friends, or other people close to you, are not taking proper precautions, and providing safety for the seniors and elderly in their life, speak on it. We all have an obligation to speak up, and let them know, in no uncertain terms, that their behavior or actions are unacceptable. Our collective responsibility is to take care of the children and elderly. Whether you have them in your own personal life is not important. What matters is that we are all part of the village.

Are we doing enough to protect the seniors in the African Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Glenn Ellis, is a Harvard Medical School Research Bioethics Fellow and author of Which Doctor?, and Information is the Best Medicine. For more good health information visit: www.glennellis.com.