1. Ada
  2. COVID
  3. COVID-19 in Older People

COVID-19 in Older People

Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team

Updated on


  • Older individuals are at risk of severe illness due to COVID-19.
  • Having underlying health conditions increases your risk of severe symptoms and complications.
  • Antiviral medication is available for those who are eligible. 

COVID-19 in older individuals has been a significant cause of concern worldwide since the beginning of the pandemic. This is because they’re at a higher risk of experiencing severe symptoms due to the infection, which may lead to hospitalization or death. In this article, we'll guide you through the symptoms and complications of COVID-19 in older people and what to do if an older person gets COVID-19.

COVID-19 in older patients 

Older adults are one of the groups of people who are at risk of severe symptoms and complications due to COVID-19. This risk increases for the unvaccinated and those with underlying health conditions or a weakened immune system. 

The risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 increases for those aged 50 years and older and continues to grow with age. Older patients infected with the coronavirus have a higher chance of needing hospitalization and intensive care. People older than 65 are significantly more at risk of death due to COVID-19 than younger people.

COVID-19 symptoms in older people

The signs of COVID-19 in older people are pretty similar to those that other age groups may experience. They may include: 

Older people with COVID-19 can develop severe complications due to their infection, which may lead them to require hospitalization, intensive care, or mechanical breathing. These complications may include: 2

  • Pneumonia
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome
  • Heart failure
  • Acute cardiac injury
  • Fungal and bacterial infections
  • Malnutrition due to symptoms such as vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Acute liver and kidney injuries
  • Septic shock
  • Multiple organ dysfunction syndrome 

Other than that, older adults may also experience symptoms of long COVID. This happens when the symptoms of COVID-19 last longer than 12 weeks. Long COVID can cause various symptoms, which may linger on for months to years. This condition can severely impact the quality of life of those affected.

In older patients, COVID-19 often also triggers new conditions which require medical attention. These conditions may range from heart, kidney, lung, and liver to mental health complications. 3

A symptom of long-COVID often occurs in older people is brain fog. This can include several symptoms, such as: 4

  • Problems with concentration
  • Feeling confused or forgetful 
  • Mental fatigue
  • Slow thoughts
  • Constantly having to look for words

Most people recover from brain fog within a few weeks to months after a COVID-19 infection. However, if your symptoms worry you or take longer to improve, you should see your doctor.

How does COVID-19 affect older people mentally? 

COVID-19 in older adults can have a severe impact not only on physical health, but on mental health as well. Several studies suggest a significant increase in stress levels, anxiety, and depression amongst people from all age ranges, including older people. 5

Follow this link for more information about Covid-19 and depression >>

How long does COVID-19 last in older people? 

The symptoms of COVID-19 in older people usually last several days to weeks. Most people fully recover within 12 weeks, although some people may experience symptoms for longer than that. In cases where COVID-19 causes hospitalization, the time spent in the hospital is usually longer for elderly patients. 6

How to treat older adults with COVID-19 at home? 

Older people are often eligible for antiviral treatment, as they're at risk of severe symptoms or hospitalization. Your doctor will assess your situation and medical history and recommend at-home remedies or antiviral medication. This medication will help your immune system fight the virus by decreasing the amount of virus in your body. For this medication to be effective, it needs to be started as soon as possible, so you should not postpone contacting your doctor. 

If you aren’t eligible for this medication, then there are still other things that you can do to alleviate your symptoms. COVID-19 treatment for older people may include: 7

  • Painkillers such as Paracetamol, Ibuprofen or Naproxen
  • Resting as much as possible
  • Drinking enough water, especially if your infection causes vomiting or diarrhea
  • Reducing your cough by taking cough medicine and sitting upright instead of lying on your back 

It’s essential to follow up closely on older people with COVID-19 who have dementia or some form of cognitive impairment, as they may have difficulties following the instructions to reduce the risk of COVID-19. Additionally, they may find it difficult to express their discomfort and the symptoms they may experience. 8

When should older people with COVID-19 go to the hospital? 

As older people are at high risk of developing severe symptoms due to COVID-19, it's important to stay vigilant and follow up on their illness's evolution. If you notice that an older person is experiencing the following symptoms, then you should seek immediate treatment: 9 7

  • They’re gradually feeling worse
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Persistent chest pain or pressure on the chest or both
  • A fever that isn’t improving with over-the-counter medication
  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhea, or both
  • Confusion
  • Inability to stay awake or get up 
  • A blue or pale tint on the lips or face or both
  • A feeling of weakness with basic tasks feeling too difficult
  • Shaking or shivering

How can older people be protected from COVID-19?

Several measures can help protect older adults from COVID-19. These measures are beneficial for older people themselves and the caregivers that visit them: 10

  • Washing your hands regularly and thoroughly with water and soap.
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
  • Improving ventilation in indoor spaces.
  • Avoiding contact with people who are sick or who have symptoms
  • Wearing a mask that fits well, covering both nose and mouth. Masks can set a barrier for the particles you breathe, cough, or sneeze out. The N95 masks provide higher protection as they fit closely on the face and filter out particles, including the coronavirus.
  • Keeping a safe distance from others.
  • Vaccination and keeping vaccination up-to-date with the recommended booster shots. 

If you're taking care of older people or visiting them, then it's strongly recommended to consider these measures.

Wrapping up 

COVID-19 can have severe complications for those 65 and older, especially those with underlying health conditions. To prevent more senior family members from getting COVID-19, it's essential to take measures to avoid spreading the virus. If they get infected with the coronavirus, it's vital to monitor these COVID-19 symptoms to notice a worsening situation immediately.


Q: How to prevent social isolation in older people during COVID-19?
A: It’s essential to check in with older adults regularly to see how they’re doing and to avoid social isolation. If you visit someone of advanced age in person, taking measures to prevent the spreading of the virus is crucial. 

Q: What are some long-term side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine in older people? 
A: There are no known long-term side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine in older people. Short-term side effects may include pain at the injection site, tiredness, headaches, body aches, and chills. 

Q: What to do if an older person gets COVID-19? 
A: You should contact your doctor to know whether or not the older person is eligible for antiviral treatment. In any case, it’s crucial to monitor their symptoms to see whether the condition worsens. 

Q: Is COVID-19 dangerous for 65 and older? 
A: Starting at 50, people tend to have a higher risk of severe symptoms due to COVID-19. This risk increases with age.