NEWS

COVID-19 and Older Adults

Verywell / Lara Antal 

From the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, older adults have been considered at risk of becoming very sick from the virus. If you are a senior or are a caregiver for an older adult, here is what you need to know about staying safe and healthy. 

Are Older Adults More at Risk for COVID-19?

Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that the chance of dying from COVID-19 increases with age. People aged 80 and over, as well as those with underlying health problems, have the highest risk of dying if they get the virus.

The risk of any infection, as well as potential complications, is higher if you do not have a strong immune system. Having a chronic illness or receiving medical treatment that dampens the immune system can make you susceptible.

Members of the elderly population are more likely than people in other age groups to have these risk factors, which increases the risks related to COVID-19. A person who was already unwell when they were infected with the virus will be more likely to develop serious complications than someone who was otherwise healthy when they got sick. Possible complications include pneumonia, blood clots, and sepsis.

Chronic Illness

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with certain health conditions are more likely to become seriously ill or develop complications if they are infected with COVID-19, compared to healthy people.

Conditions That Increase COVID-19 Severity

People may also be at increased risk if they have conditions that affect their immune systems, such as cancer and HIV/AIDS. Additionally, organ transplant recipients taking immunosuppressants and people taking biologics for the treatment of autoimmune diseases may also be higher at risk, since these treatments weaken the immune system.

Nursing Homes, Assisted Living, and Hospice

Elderly people also have certain risk factors that are related to their lifestyle.

  • Visiting healthcare providers: Many older adults frequently have to go to healthcare settings for assessments or to receive treatment for chronic medical conditions. 
  • Living in community settings: Some older adults live in a nursing home or assisted living facility. While these places are expected to practice infection prevention on par with hospitals, infectious diseases such as COVID-19 tend to spread quickly wherever people live in close quarters.  
  • Living in palliative care: Those who are elderly, frail, and in the final stages of a terminal illness are especially vulnerable to infection.

What Seniors Can Do

Experiencing confusion, worry, and anxiety about your coronavirus-related risk is normal regardless of how old you are or your usual state of health. You may be feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, or helpless.

While you cannot control or know every factor that contributes to your risk, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Talk to Your Doctor

If you are unsure of how your age or health status influences your risk, the best thing you can do is talk to your doctor. If you can't go to the office for your appointment, you may be able to call, send a message through a secure patient portal, or even use a video chat service to have a conversation.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Old Woman

Vaccination is available to protect you from COVID-19 infection. The vaccine is recommended for most elderly adults, and it has been shown to be safe and effective. Vaccination reduces the risk of infection and lowers the likelihood that an infection will be serious.

While you should stay up to date on the recommendations for older adults and people with specific health conditions that are identified by national and global agencies like the CDC and WHO, your own healthcare providers will be able to provide guidance that is most relevant to you because they know your medical history and your social circumstances.

In the event that you are exposed to the virus or experience symptoms, your doctor will be the best resource for information about getting tested and treated where you live.

Limit Exposure

Don't spend any time around anyone who has COVID-19, whether they have symptoms or not.

Talk to your doctor to get advice about how much you can go out around crowds or around other people who could potentially carry the virus. And it's important to consider limiting people coming into your home, which can help reduce your risk of coming into contact with someone who is infected.

Practicing social distancing is important because you may come into contact with someone who does not feel sick, but has been infected with the virus and can spread it to you without realizing it. Likewise, you could be infected and infect someone else.

Try to maintain contact with friends and family by phone, video chat, email, or messaging apps so you won't lose touch with your family and social circle as a result of being cautious.

Beware of Scams

Do not respond to phone calls, emails, or social media messages that ask you for personal information or money, or that offer you vaccinations, medication, or treatment for COVID-19.

Remember that scammers can make a call or message look like it's coming from someone in your community—or even a family member or friend.

If you are not sure about who is contacting you and think it might be a scam, check the Federal Trade Commission's list of COVID-19 scams.

Practice Proper Hand Hygiene

Correctly washing your hands is a habit that can save lives (yours and others)—and not just when there's a global pandemic. Proper hand hygiene doesn't just mean always washing your hands before you eat and after you use the bathroom; it also means that you wash your hands in the right way.

If you don't have clean water nearby and your hands are not visibly soiled, using hand sanitizer spray, gel, or wipes that are at least 60% alcohol can help. It's not as good as finding a sink and suds, but it's better than nothing at all.

Sanitizing products can also be useful for wiping down objects and surfaces in your car and home, as well as things that you bring along when you leave the house, like your phone, wallet, and bag.

Take Care of Your Mind, Body, and Spirit

Do your best to continue doing all the things you normally do to stay healthy, like eating well, drinking water, getting enough sleep, and exercising.

Some tips for practicing self-care:

  • Maintain a routine. Try to maintain a routine and give yourself a bit of a schedule.
  • Get outside. Unless your doctor specifically advises against it, getting outside each day—whether to work in your garden, read in the backyard, or take your dog for a walk around the block—will also help keep you in good physical and mental shape.
  • Get involved. If you are feeling isolated and alone, reach out to your local community. Churches and religious organizations, nonprofit groups, businesses, schools, and municipal departments may have programs to help you with your practical needs—and you can also safely volunteer your services if you are up to it.

Tips for Caregivers

If you're caring for an aging loved one, you may have questions about the risk of COVID-19. Many of the steps you're taking to protect yourself and the people in your home will also benefit an elderly family member, but there are additional precautions you may want to consider.

  • Connect with your loved one's healthcare providers: Find out what you need to know about your loved one's medical needs. Ensure that they have the prescriptions, supplies, and equipment they need and that you know how to get more. Make sure you understand how to help them manage their chronic health conditions, and know which scenarios warrant calling the doctor's office, going to the ER, or calling 911.
  • Know your local guidelines: Keep up to date with state and local guidelines related to COVID-19. If your loved one is showing signs of illness or has been exposed to someone who is sick, make sure you know when, where, and how to get care in your community.
  • Stay in touch remotely: If your elderly loved one lives independently, set up a way to stay in touch remotely. You might set up a schedule for calling them each day, set up a video camera, or do daily check-ins via Skype or Facetime. Arrange for them to have an emergency call button or medical alert device.
  • Involve others: You may also want to notify your loved one's friends or neighbors, who may be willing to keep an eye on things for you.
  • If you have a loved one who has a limited ability to communicate: Make sure that you are monitoring them for signs of illness (for example, checking their temperature). A person who has speech or cognitive difficulties may not tell you that they feel sick.
  • If you have a loved one in a nursing home or assisted living facility: Talk to their physician about the safest option for their continued care. If you are concerned about the risk of exposure in a facility and would prefer to care for them in your home, understand that their medical needs may prevent this from being possible. It's also important that you are realistic about the potential safety risks of having them in your home beyond exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
  • If a healthcare professional visits them at home: Make sure you speak to the healthcare organization or agency about what steps are being taken to protect employees and patients. Work with them to put a plan in place for continued care in the event that the person who usually provides care for your loved one becomes ill.

Know Your Own Risk

If you are responsible for caring for someone else, you need to prioritize your own health and safety to ensure that you can be there for them. This encompasses everything from addressing your physical and mental wellbeing to assessing your own risk.

Taking steps to reduce your risk of exposure to COVID-19 helps you avoid spreading the virus to a vulnerable loved one and reduces the risk that you'll become sick yourself. These outcomes are of equal importance to ensuring that you, your family, and the people in your community are safe.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. World Health Organization (WHO). Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) [pdf].

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Older Adults. Healthy People 2020.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Are You at Higher Risk for Severe Illness?. National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), Division of Viral Diseases,

  4. 1.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Preparing for COVID-19: Long-term Care Facilities, Nursing Homes. National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), Division of Viral Diseases.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Frequently Asked Questions about Hand Hygiene for Healthcare Personnel Responding to COVID-2019. National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), Division of Viral Diseases.

Additional Reading

By Abby Norman
Abby Norman is a freelance science writer and medical editor. She is also the author of "Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctors Believe in Women's Pain."