We learned earlier this week that the CDC added six new symptoms to the list for COVID-19. But they did not add the unusual symptoms doctors and nurses on the front lines observe in older adults.

Why weren’t these symptoms included in the update?

So far, these findings are anecdotal – meaning there is no hard science to back it up. These unusual symptoms have been observed and reported by doctors and nurses, but they require further, formal investigation to be confirmed as consistent in a large group of older adults.

But that doesn’t make the information less important. This virus is so new and unfamiliar, it’s worth it to take in all the information you can.

In a recent article for Kaiser Health News,  Judith Graham writes, “If early signs of COVID-19 are missed, seniors may deteriorate before getting needed care.”

What are the early signs in seniors?

You are probably well aware of the big three symptoms: a fever, cough, and shortness of breath. But older adults may not have any of these recognizable symptoms at all. As with many conditions (particularly infections), older adults don’t have the typical signs and symptoms.

Graham reports, “seniors may seem “off” — not acting like themselves ― early on after being infected by the coronavirus. They may sleep more than usual or stop eating. They may seem unusually apathetic or confused, losing orientation to their surroundings. They may become dizzy and fall. Sometimes, seniors stop speaking or simply collapse.”

Why do older adults have different symptoms?

We know for sure is that seniors’ bodies just respond differently illness and infection. This may be due to underlying conditions (such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, etc.) or it could just be part of the normal age-related changes with see in older adults.

Here’s an example Graham gives in her article:

“Dr. Quratulain Syed, an Atlanta geriatrician, describes a man in his 80s whom she treated in mid-March. Over a period of days, this patient, who had heart disease, diabetes and moderate cognitive impairment, stopped walking and became incontinent and profoundly lethargic. But he didn’t have a fever or a cough. His only respiratory symptom: sneezing off and on.”

What can you do?

As with all things COVID-related, knowledge is power. So, keep these unusual symptoms in mind as you talk to your team about their clients’ conditions.

And, if you have clients that have suspended services because they have a family member at home to provide care, be sure to check in often with those family members and give them the knowledge they need to recognize these “atypical” symptoms.

To assist you in this, we’ve updated our free guide, “Helpful Family Resources for Dealing with COVID-19” to include this new information.

Print copies or email the link to your clients’ family members. This tool provides the tips and resources they need to guide them through the caregiving process during the coronavirus crisis.


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