You can’t turn on a television or radio, hit a news or medical site, or turn on a television, without being told that “older adults” are more at risk for the current Coronavirus (Covid-19), as well as the flu, the common cold, and other illnesses. (And don’t even get us started about all the scam Coronavirus emails!) But just what is an older adult? Try to determine how you qualify as an older adult, and nary a word. Here’s what are older adults according to our best research.
First, you may be wondering why the Internet Patrol, a site about Internet stuff, is writing about what is the definition of an older adult. Well, we’ll tell you why: because nobody else is doing it, and people want to know, and we are very good at Internet research (ah, there’s the Internet stuff), and discerning the wheat from the chaff. Unfortunately, right now it’s mostly chaff out there, and very little wheat (can you develop an intolerance to Internet gluten?)
Now, that said, we need to make very clear that we are not medical authorities, and this is not medical advice. But seeing as how no medical authority has so far (at least publicly) given any guidance whatsoever about what the medical community considers to be older adults, here is our best take on it, based on our best research (along with cites to sources).
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To cut right to the chase, the term “older adults” seems generally to refer to adults 60 years of age and older. Now, of course (and part of the reason for the dearth of definitive definitions from medical and other authorities), this depends a great deal on the general health of a given older adult, and how robust their immune system is. As the CDC points out, “as people age, their immune systems change, making it harder for their body to fight off diseases and infection,” going on to say that “many older adults are also more likely to have underlying health conditions that make it harder to cope with and recover from illness.” But even there, they don’t give a hint as to what constitutes an older adult.
A study in the New England Journal of Medicine of ‘Early Transmission Dynamics in Wuhan, China, of Novel Coronavirus–Infected Pneumonia’ notes that nearly half of the 425 cases of coronavirus that they analyzed “were in adults 60 years of age or older,” although they also pointed out that their case definition “specified severe enough illness to require medical attention.”
First Health, a medical care provider in the Carolinas, also uses ages greater than 60 (well, they say “>60”) as the mark of an older adult. And while they were contrasting the Coronavirus to the H1N1 epidemic of 2009, they cleary state “older adults (>60 years old)”.
And according to the Washington D.C. Office on Aging, older adults are “(60 years and older)”
Finally, the State of Washington’s King County has given us the most definitive statement of all, when, on Wednesday, March 4th, they issued a statement on the Coronavirus that included:
Guidance for people at higher risk for severe COVID-19 Illness
Public Health recommends that people at higher risk of severe illness should stay home and away from large groups of people as much as possible, including public places with lots of people and large gatherings where there will be close contact with others. This includes concert venues, conventions, sporting events, and crowded social gatherings.
People at higher risk include people:
Over 60 years of age
With underlying health conditions including include heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes
With weakened immune systems
Who are pregnant
Caregivers of children with underlying health conditions should consult with healthcare providers about whether their children should stay home. Anyone who has questions about whether their condition puts them at risk for novel coronavirus should consult with their healthcare providers.
So, while few, other than King County, have come out and specifically stated an age certain, rather than just “older adults”, the bush around which others have beaten seems to point to “older adults” being those aged 60 and over.
So, if you do fall into this category, what should you do? According to the CDC, here are the measures to take if you are aged 60 or older, or otherwise at higher risk.
From the CDC:
What to do if you are at higher risk:
- Stay at home as much as possible.
- Make sure you have access to several weeks of medications and supplies in case you need to stay home for prolonged periods of time.
- When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.
- Avoid crowds.
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