If You're Over 65, Watch Out for This Subtle COVID Symptom

This sneaky symptom can be harder to detect in people over 65.

People over 65 are among those at higher risk of experiencing severe illness from COVID, so if you're in this age group, it's even more important to catch any subtle signs that could mean you have the virus early on. Kaiser Health News (KHN) reports that people over 65 may not demonstrate the average symptoms of COVID but instead have more atypical manifestations of the virus, which can make it more challenging to diagnose and treat them appropriately.

In fact, people over 65 and their loved ones need to keep a lookout for one subtle symptom in particular that's easy to miss but common in that age group, experts warn. To see which covert COVID symptom you can't afford to miss, read on, and to learn about another sneaky symptom, check out If You're Over 65, You Could Be Missing This COVID Symptom, Study Says.

Cognitive issues are common subtle symptoms of COVID in people over 65.

Senior man suffering from headache at home
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KHN says a subtle but important sign to catch is when seniors seem "off" and are not acting like themselves. "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," notes KHN. These could be signs of delirium or brain fog, and while any COVID patients can experience these symptoms, they can be harder to detect in people over 65.

"If seniors feel more tired than normal and just feel sort of mentally foggy, this may be a strong indicator that they have contracted the virus," says family practice physician and Test Prep Insight contributor Peter Bailey, MD. Bailey notes that it could be tough to discern the difference between COVID symptoms and common tiredness and cognitive decline that can come with age. "That said, if you suspect at all that a senior you know may be showing signs of abnormal tiredness or forgetfulness, have them tested for COVID right away," says Bailey.

Camille Vaughan, MD, section chief of geriatrics and gerontology at Emory University, says it's possible that "someone may be just having a bad day." However, she told KLN, "if they're not themselves for a couple of days, absolutely reach out to a primary care doctor or a local health system hotline to see if they meet the threshold for [coronavirus] testing." And for more up-to-date COVID news delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

People over 65 are more prone to develop delirium apart from COVID.

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"Elderly patients tend to get delirium more often than others especially if they already have some underlying conditions like dementia, chronic debility, prior strokes, or are on multiple medications especially for mental health or sleep for example," explains Nitin Desai, MD, chief medical officer of COVID PreCheck.

Desai says that delirium can cause people to struggle with paying attention and make them confused and sleepy. "Individuals may have difficulty in thinking, difficulty in sleep, or show emotional disruption," explains Desai. To see which other symptoms will linger, check out Dr. Fauci Says These Are the COVID Symptoms That Don't Go Away.

There are a few questions to ask yourself when checking for COVID-related delirium.

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Alberta Health Services suggests checking a few specific aspects of these symptoms in patients over 65 to determine if it's COVID-related delirium. "Is the client expressing new onset hallucinations or delusions? Is the client wandering more than usual, from previous shift or previous day? Has the client's behavior changed from usual…? Is the client more unsettled?" Answering these questions may help recognize delirium as an early symptom of COVID. And for more on the severity of symptoms, check out If You Have This Common Habit, Your COVID Symptoms Will Be Worse.

Even the slightest changes in behavior could be indicators of COVID.

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"With a lot of conditions, older adults don't present in a typical way, and we're seeing that with COVID-19 as well," says Vaughan.

Leann Poston, MD, a licensed physician and health advisor for Invigor Medical, agrees with that notion and adds that it "may be due to a process called immunosenescence or a change in the immune system with age. It may also be due to underlying health conditions."

As we age, our immune system can be blunted, and its ability to regulate symptoms can diminish, Joseph Ouslander, MD, a professor of geriatric medicine at Florida Atlantic University, explained to KHN. So it's integral to watch for slight changes that could indicate subtle COVID symptoms. To see how to help lower your risk, know that Inhaling This Could Reduce Your Severe COVID Risk 90 Percent, Study Finds.

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