Delirium Missed as COVID Symptom in Frail Elderly

The distribution and availability of COVID-19 vaccines varies widely between countries and regions throughout the world – seniors are still vulnerable in many places and issues like delirium may be missed.  As the rollout of coronavirus immunization continues, alongside several virus variants emerging, important research has revealed unusual symptoms of infection among frail elderly adults. 

According to a recent report, vulnerable people over the age of 80 who do not show typical respiratory signs of COVID-19 are at greater risk for dying from the virus.  Studies have found that common geriatric ailments such as confusion, weakness, low body temperature, lack of appetite or lethargy may mask coronavirus infection.   Researchers from Brown University have found that the majority of nursing home residents who died of coronavirus had no coughing or shortness of breath, and sometimes delirium was the only symptom of illness. 

Confusion, lethargy or diminished appetite among frail seniors are symptoms that require staffing and a level of care that many nursing homes are unable to provide for elderly residents, putting them at greater risk for hospitalization, harm and death.   With greater awareness of unusual COVID-19 symptoms, like delirium, doctors, healthcare workers and caregivers will be able to test earlier and offer treatment to help avoid a rapid decline in health among seniors. 

Delirium is frequently the only symptom noticeable of an underlying health problem like COVID-19, as well as more routine illnesses like urinary tract infections, among elderly adults.  With age, the immune system gradually deteriorates and other chronic illnesses may mask symptoms of infection.  When fatigue, lethargy, and a decreased interest in food are present, elderly adults can quickly become dehydrated and weak, contributing to a rapid health decline. 

When elderly patients are not eating and drinking as usual, the medications they may be taking for chronic health conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure are not being properly metabolized by the body and can also cause more health problems.  

Read more about some of the unusual symptoms of COVID-19 to watch out for by following this link to the Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials webpage.