When ‘It’s Just Old Age’ Isn’t …

Have you been feeling particularly tired lately? Maybe you find walking just a few blocks too exhausting to contemplate. A persistent cough? Joint paint and weakness? Dizziness or vertigo? Brain fog? 

Such symptoms are often dismissed — by friends, family members and even members of the medical profession — as “just the effects of old age.” But they might not be. If you’ve had COVID-19 some time in the past three years, these symptoms might be caused by Long COVID.

What Is It?

Long COVID is broadly defined as signs, symptoms, and conditions that continue or develop after a person has had COVID-19. Early in the pandemic, it was thought that if a person developed extended symptoms, they dissipated within a year. That still is true in some cases. However, especially among older adults, Long COVID symptoms may continue on indefinitely, and also may exacerbate existing conditions, such as heart failure, lung disease, or various types of dementia. Currently, the World Health Organization defines long covid as the continuation or development of new symptoms 3 months after the initial COVID-19 infection, with these symptoms lasting for at least 2 months with no other explanation.

The symptoms of Long COVID are many, which is part of what makes diagnosing it difficult. In late May, an extended study involving 9,764 participants called the RECOVER initiative (Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery) was published in JAMA Network (the Journal of the American Medical Association).

While more than 200 symptoms have been reported by Long COVID patients, the study identified the 12 key symptoms that best define it:

  • Loss of smell or taste
  • Malaise following activity or exercise
  • Chronic cough
  • Brain fog
  • Thirst
  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Issues with sexual desire or capacity
  • Abnormal movements (including tremors, slowed movements, rigidity, or sudden, unintended and uncontrollable jerky movements)

Results from the RECOVER initiative will help standardize the definition of Long COVID, as well as provide a basis for how the condition is diagnosed and studied. Researchers who took part of the study say they believe the real world of incidence of Long COVID is about 10 percent of people who contract COVID 19. With the National Institutes for Health estimating that more than 750 million people worldwide have had COVID-19, even 10 percent is a huge number of individuals.

A recent Washington Post article goes into great detail regarding the Long COVID trends that emerged from the study, and is well worth the read.

Older Adults and Long COVID

Another study published by JAMA in January 2022 from Canada’s Longitudinal Study on Aging examined 24,114 middle aged and older adults with confirmed, probable, or suspected COVID-19 cases. Some 42 percent were aged 65 or older, with 51 percent being women. Researchers found that, compared with non-COVID residents, nearly twice as many subjects who had COVID-19 had higher odds of worsening mobility and physical functions. The twist was that most of the participants in the study had mild to moderate cases of COVID 19 and had not been hospitalized. 

What To Do About Long COVID

The advent of Long COVID means the United States’ already overtaxed health care and home health systems may be in for even more strain because Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers with Long COVID may require additional help with health care and day-to-day tasks. 

The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPM&R) has undertaken comprehensive efforts to support a call for a national plan to address Long COVID. Its website has several ways people can become involved in advocating for a more complete and equitable plan for dealing with Long COVID.

What’s the bottomline? If you suddenly notice symptoms, don’t assume you’re “just getting old.” True though that may be, if you’ve had COVID, and now have one or more of these rather nondescript symptoms, something else may be going on. Take the time to see a physician who can help you connect the dots and get the assistance you need. 

Case in point: I know of one Baby Boomer in Texas who had COVID 19 around the middle of the pandemic. Prior to having COVID, he had no balance issues. Since COVID, he’s had increasing debilitating balance issues from Long COVID. With the help of physicians and therapists, today he is in a community setting slowly recovering to the point where he can return to his home. But it’s a slow go. 

Other Resources For Long COVID:

The Administration for Community Living has issued a series of resources for people living with Long COVID. It includes resources in local communities.

Additionally, the Eldercare Locator is a nationwide service that connects older Americans and their caregivers with trustworthy local support resources from the U.S. Administration on Aging.  

Dismissing or ignoring the annoying symptoms of Long COVID only prolongs the problems. It is a real and debilitating condition. Treat it seriously!

Third Chapter Living celebrates, challenges, informs and promotes conversations about housing issues affecting the Baby Boomer Generation. Check out our website to learn more about our work. Our Facebook Group is a resource center with tips and recommendations on navigating those issues. Share experiences with others who are looking for Housing Downsizing Tools that allow them to successfully age-in-place.

1 Comments

  1. Negash on June 13, 2023 at 9:53 pm

    Excellent article, presented in an easy, understandable way

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