Five Things to Know Right Now About Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

You may have heard a lot recently about “coronavirus” or COVID-19, the virus responsible for a current global outbreak. Scientists and health experts are still learning more, but here are five things to know to keep yourself and those you care for safe and informed.

1. What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus, which is a family of viruses common in humans and many different animals. Viruses in this family can cause respiratory illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. Cases of COVID-19 in particular can be mild, but others can be more severe and occasionally deadly—especially for those living with other chronic health conditions.

2. Where is it?

Click here for a list of countries impacted by COVID-19.

3. What are the symptoms and what should I do if I experience them?

In general, COVID-19 causes a respiratory illness that ranges from mild to severe, though for some it can be deadly. Symptoms, which usually appear 2 to 14 days after someone gets infected, can include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

If you have these symptoms, call your healthcare professional first, before visiting an office. Your healthcare professional will determine if your symptoms match COVID-19 and whether you should be tested. Also contact your healthcare professional if you have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 and/or have recently traveled to an area where COVID-19 cases have occurred.

If you develop emergency warning signs such as difficulty breathing, call 911 immediately. Let the 911 operator know that you may have COVID-19 symptoms.

4. How does it spread?

Scientists are still learning more, but coronavirus appears to spread person-to-person during close contact with someone infected, specifically from respiratory droplets when that person coughs.

It appears COVID-19 may also be able to spread on household surfaces and in the air, so it’s always best to exercise as much caution as possible while scientists learn more.

5. How can I protect myself and others?

For now, the CDC recommends that older adults or those with chronic medical conditions consider postponing travel, especially to areas impacted by COVID-19.

Additionally, the CDC recommends everyone follow these everyday practices:

  • Stay at home as much as possible and avoid crowds or poorly ventilated areas.
  • Make sure you have access to several weeks of medications and supplies in case you need to stay home for prolonged periods of time.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water (or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol) for at least 20 seconds. Soap up and then sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice before you rinse off the soap. You should especially wash your hands after going to the bathroom; before eating; after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; and after encountering anyone who is or may be sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. If a tissue isn’t readily available, sneeze or cough into your elbow to reduce the risk of spreading infection with your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning product.

Stay Empowered, Stay Informed

Physical and Mental Exercise Lower Chances for Developing Delirium After Surgery

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

After having surgery, many older adults develop delirium, the medical term for sudden and severe confusion. In fact, between 10 and 67 percent of older adults experience delirium after surgery for non-heart-related issues, while 5 to 61 percent experience delirium after orthopedic surgery (surgery dealing with the bones and muscles).

Delirium can lead to problems with thinking and decision-making. It can also make it difficult to be mobile and perform daily functions and can increase the risk for illness and death. Because adults over age 65 undergo more than 18 million surgeries each year, delirium can have a huge impact personally, as well as for families and our communities.

Healthcare providers can use several tools to reduce the chances older adults will develop delirium. Providers can meet with a geriatrician before surgery, review prescribed medications, and make sure glasses and hearing aids are made available after surgery (since difficulty seeing or hearing can contribute to confusion). However, preventing delirium prior to surgery may be the best way to help older adults avoid it.

A team of researchers from Albert Einstein College of Medicine designed a study to see whether older adults who are physically active before having surgery had less delirium after surgery. The research team had previously found that people who enjoy activities such as reading, doing puzzles, or playing games experienced lower rates of delirium. The team published new findings on physical activity in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Continue reading

Physical Therapy in the Emergency Department after a Fall May Help Reduce Future Fall-Related Visits to the Emergency Department

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Falls are the leading cause of illness and death among Americans aged 65 and older. In 2014, some 2.8 million older adults visited the emergency department (ED) for a fall-related injury. And over time, the ED visit rate for falls among older adults has grown to 68.8 per 1,000 older adults (as of 2010).

Older adults who visit the ED for a fall are at high risk for both revisiting the ED and dying. In fact, some estimates show that 25 percent of older adults visiting the ED for a fall returned for at least one additional fall-related visit. Fifteen percent of those older adults died within the following year.

Because so many older adults visit an ED due to falls, many experts see an opportunity for EDs to play a role in reducing future falls among older adults who are at high risk.

In a new study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers explored whether older adults who received physical therapy (PT) services while in the ED for a fall experienced fewer fall-related repeat visits to the ED.

The research team used Medicare claims data representing Medicare beneficiaries from across the country. The information examined differences in 30-day and 60-day ED repeat visit rates among older adults who visited the ED for a fall and who received PT services in the ED. The researchers compared that to older adults who did not receive PT services in the ED after a fall. Continue reading

Recognizing and Diagnosing Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Older Adults

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common condition that causes brief, repeated pauses in breathing throughout the night as you sleep. OSA is linked to several serious health problems, including heart disease, difficulties with thinking and memory, depression, car crashes, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Having OSA can also cause a decline in quality of life, and increase the risk of motor vehicle crashes.

Until now, researchers have not explored on a national scale how many older adults may be at risk for OSA, or how often healthcare providers evaluate and treat the condition in older people. Recently, a team of researchers from the University of Michigan designed a first-of-its-kind study to answer those questions. Their work was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The researchers studied information from the National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS), a survey of Medicare beneficiaries that assesses the impact of aging on health and well-being. Funded by the National Institute on Aging, NHATS has conducted five annual face-to-face interviews in older adults’ homes since 2011. The NHATS research team has collected detailed information about participants’ health, physical and mental capabilities, living conditions, daily activities, and social support. In 2013, NHATS interviews also asked beneficiaries questions about sleep disturbances and symptoms of sleep apnea. Many of the NHATS sleep questions resembled questions from a common sleep apnea screening questionnaire known as the “STOP-Bang” questionnaire, which got its name from the symptoms it assesses: snoring, tiredness, observed apneas (pauses in breathing), high blood pressure, body mass index (BMI, a ratio of weight to height that assesses levels of under/overweight and obesity), age, neck circumference, and gender. Continue reading

Avoiding Dangerous Side Effects of Medications in Nursing Homes

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Experts from the University of Iowa recently published a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society examining the kind of medication errors and side effects that nursing home residents experience. They also looked at staffing and work systems in nursing homes that could affect medication errors and side effects. This is important because more than 1.4 million older adults lived in nursing home facilities as of 2015. Of these, 85 percent were 65-years-old and older and 41 percent were 85-years-of-age or older. In 2014, there were 15,600 nursing homes in the United States.

Older adults who live in nursing homes are at greater risk for injuries related to the medications we might take as we age (these injuries are also known as “adverse drug events”). There is a greater risk for adverse drug events for this population due to age, frailty, disability, and the multiple chronic illnesses we may be managing at any given time. For these illnesses, nursing home residents usually need several medicines, sometimes including riskier medicines like antipsychotics, antidepressants, and antiepileptics.

Some adverse drug events are due to preventable errors. Others are considered “non-preventable” because they can occur even when the medications are correctly given at normal doses. Continue reading