The Current Impacts of COVID-19 on Senior Citizens

With March 2023 marking the third year since the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the United States, the effects of the virus are still being felt. In particular, the lives of senior citizens have been greatly impacted by restructured living communities, ongoing infections and long-term health complications caused by the COVID-19 virus.

The Effects of COVID-19 Infection on Seniors

As a disease, COVID-19 was indiscriminate in who it infected. However, certain demographics and people with pre-existing health conditions have struggled with harsher and more persistent symptoms. Senior citizens, in particular, are still at higher risk for hospitalization due to COVID-19 infection. Not to mention, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 75{60e3205c9e9f34e92fc6a9e08b9e6d84f58a45e7425346c341df3137e06028af} of COVID-19-related deaths were in people aged 65 and older. 

During the height of the pandemic, the necessary decrease in the number of social interactions exacerbated the loneliness and social isolation that many senior citizens regularly struggle with. Not only were gatherings limited or entirely prohibited, but many senior citizens were isolated individually within assisted living communities. Loneliness has been proven to have negative long-term effects on health and wellbeing. As the pandemic combined this existing feeling with worries surrounding a deadly virus, it only increased the negative effects that isolation has on cognitive function and quality of life.

Furthermore, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is actively researching the effects of COVID-19 on the brain. While it is uncertain whether COVID-19 crosses the brain-blood barrier and directly affects the brain, the body’s inflammatory response to the virus may lead to inflammation and bleeding in the brain. One study in the Journal of Experimental Medicine  discovered signs of SARS-CoV-2 in neurons in the cerebral cortex, prompting further exploration. Future research is planned to confirm the lasting effects of COVID-19 infection on human brain function. 

The Long-Term Effects of COVID-19 on Seniors

Unfortunately, the long-term effects of COVID-19 — more commonly referred to as ‘long covid’ — may manifest in ways similar to symptoms of other conditions. Thus, long covid and its symptoms tend to be taken less seriously, especially for older adults.

According to the CDC, most common symptoms of long covid include fatigue, coughing, insomnia, lightheadedness, palpitations, muscle pain, mood changes and difficulty with breathing, among others. These symptoms can manifest up to four weeks after initial COVID-19 infection and last for an undetermined amount of time. The causes of post-COVID-19 symptoms are still being researched. 

One of the most pressing long-term effects of COVID-19 in both young and older adults is brain fog. Brain fog is a set of symptoms including lack of sustained focus, sluggish thinking and more frequent forgetfulness. A series of studies analyzed by the NIH have found a correlation between cognitive deficits and COVID-19 infection in both younger and older adults.

The symptoms of brain fog overlap with both the natural effects of aging and conditions such as dementia, which many senior citizens struggle with. Because the line between brain fog and dementia or aging is blurry in some instances, senior citizens’ struggles with the long-term effects of COVID-19 may be neglected. 

Additionally, studies have established connections between COVID-19 infection and dementia. One study by researchers from Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons found that a sample of patients who died from COVID-19 experienced the molecular changes in their brains as did people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Another study published in JAMA Neurology found that cognitive impairment was more likely in COVID-19 survivors than uninfected people during one year of monitoring.

The Effects of COVID-19 on Quality of Life

The COVID-19 pandemic had both immediate and lasting effects on quality of life for people of all ages, but it especially impacted older adults. During the height of the pandemic, senior citizens experienced heightened levels of social isolation and loneliness due to social distancing precautions and other safety regulations. This made negative effects on mental health worse, including greater feelings of sadness. 

Like other age groups, senior citizens had to rely heavily on technology during the pandemic. Technology can facilitate some social interactions, such as by providing a means to communicate with distant family members. However, for senior citizens (who tend to be less familiar with technology and its usage), adapting to digital-first interactions had its difficulties — specifically, the rise of e-healthcare (e.g. phone and video consultations) during the pandemic proved unsatisfactory for senior citizens, who, according to Eurofound, show a preference for in-person appointments.

The weekly count of COVID-19 diagnoses in the United States seems to be decreasing through the early months of 2023. However, the effects of the pandemic are far from over. Senior citizens, in particular, are actively dealing with the long-term effects of COVID-19. 


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