12 unusual COVID-19 symptoms that are striking seniors

The COVID-19 pandemic has us all on high alert for any warning signs we’ve been infected. Fever, cough and shortness of breath are the three most common symptoms, so that’s what most of us are watching out for. But as you may have heard, there are plenty of other symptoms that can indicate you’re infected with the virus…

A sudden loss of taste and smell are the first symptoms of COVID-19 for some people. Some people develop extremely red eyes. And now, new case reports from the medical community show that a few unusual symptoms may be striking seniors at the start of an infection.

According to medical experts around the world, seniors who contract COVID-19 may start acting “off” before they develop any other symptoms of the virus. They may sleep more, stop eating, become confused or dizzy. Here are a few specific stories of how COVID-19 is affecting seniors across the country:

COVID-19 stories from seniors across the country

Older bodies tend to respond to illness and infection differently than younger ones. Age influences the immune response, and older people are more likely to have chronic diseases with symptoms that can mask the early signs of an infection. Age-related cognitive impairment can also prevent older people from communicating when they start feeling under the weather.

In Atlanta, geriatrician Quratulain Syed had a patient in his 80s who suddenly stopped walking, became incontinent and was extremely lethargic. The man had a few chronic conditions (heart disease, diabetes and moderate cognitive impairment), but he didn’t have a fever. He also didn’t have any respiratory symptoms besides sneezing off and on. It turned out he had COVID-19.

Dr. Laura Perry, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco, had a similar patient. Her patient was a woman in her 80s who had symptoms that appeared to be a cold. After the “cold,” the woman became confused. She couldn’t identify where she was and was so drowsy during an examination that she couldn’t stay awake. She was eventually diagnosed with COVID-19 too.

Dr. Anthony Perry, an associate professor of geriatric medicine at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, had an older patient with extreme gastrointestinal symptoms. This 81-year-old woman had nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, but no respiratory symptoms. She was diagnosed with COVID-19 as well. Another Rush patient had nausea and vomiting, without a cough, fever or shortness of breath. This 80-year old patient was also diagnosed with COVID-19.

Dr. Sam Torbati, medical director of the Ruth and Harry Roman Emergency Department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, says he’s seen many senior patients who’ve come in with unusual symptoms and eventually been diagnosed with COVID-19. Many are weak and dehydrated. Some are disoriented and unable to speak, so doctors at first suspect they’ve had a stroke. But in the end, it turns out to be COVID-19 impacting their nervous systems.

All the atypical COVID-19 symptoms seniors could develop

Basically, if an older adult in your life starts acting differently or developing new and unusual symptoms, it’s worth getting it checked out — even if they don’t have the traditional respiratory symptoms associated with COVID-19.

Right now, Dr. Sylvain Nguyen, a geriatrician at the University of Lausanne Hospital Center in Switzerland, is assembling a list of typical and atypical symptoms in older COVID-19 patients that she plans to publish. Here are the atypical symptoms she plans to include:

  • Delirium
  • Falls
  • Fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Low blood pressure
  • Painful swallowing
  • Fainting
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of smell and taste

Unfortunately, it’s still difficult to get COVID-19 tests in many areas. But if an older adult in your life is acting strange, talk to your primary care doctor about testing anyway. You may not get it right away, but if your loved one isn’t improving, be persistent and continue asking. Hopefully, testing will be widely available soon. In the meantime, we have to be committed advocates for our health and the health of the people we love.

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  1. Seniors with COVID-19 show unusual symptoms, doctors say — MedicalXpress.


Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.