Ageing, frailty and COVID-19

April 23, 2020

This article has not been updated recently

By: Dr. Claire Steves

Initial data which came out of China warned us that COVID-19 affects older people more seriously.  But does it affect them in the same way?

With the COVID symptom tracker, we are looking at how age, and the way we age might change the symptoms we get.  To get this question right we really need more older people registering on the app, which is why we are so pleased that many charities are joining our call today, which highlights the new feature on the app which allows people to report for others.

In the meantime, I’d like to share with you some important preliminary analyses on the data from the app which have yielded some really important results. 

We have looked at the symptoms experienced during proven COVID-19 infection by people who are over 85, report limiting health problems, or need help or physical aids.  These are all pointers that a person might be more vulnerable to stressors of life – so called “frailty” – but what about COVID-19?   

We found that this group of people testing positive for COVID-19 experienced more shortness of breath, than other test-positive groups.  Interestingly, they also experienced more headache, confusion and diarrhoea than non-frail people. These symptoms are not normally considered typical of COVID-19. 

If this is confirmed, it is a really important finding - people experiencing these symptoms may not realise they could have COVID-19, and therefore may not seek testing. Also, healthcare workers may not think of COVID-19 when patients report these symptoms, so it could be missed, and therefore spread.

The fact their symptoms are different could also mean that the virus affects the bodies of frailer people in a different way, and this could have a serious effect on future vaccination and treatment options. 

Clearly, more work is needed on the effects of COVID-19 on people who are frail but this is an important start. Our app now allows for people to input symptoms on behalf of someone else. Perhaps you have a relative who is frail or unable to submit their symptoms themselves? Someone who doesn’t use a smartphone maybe? 

Please ask them if you could log in and input the information on their behalf! More data on the app means we have more information to help us understand more about how this virus affects people, especially those that are frail and more vulnerable.  

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