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A look at the long-term impacts of COVID-19 for seniors

Older Americans may face severe disabilities if they contract COVID-19.
Credit: KUSA
Colorado hospitals prepare for more COVID patients over Thanksgiving holiday, less hospital beds.

COLORADO, USA — Lung scarring, fatigue, chest and muscle pain and intermittent fever are among the long-term side effects that could be caused by COVID-19, particularly in seniors.

That's according to Dr. Thomas Campbell, who specializes in internal medicine and infectious disease at University of Colorado Hospital. Campbell said the novel coronavirus can do serious, lasting damage to its victims that survive.

"They have damage to their lungs, they have scarring in their lungs," Campbell said. "What we know from other illnesses is when you get that level of damage, you never get complete recovery. So I would think unfortunately that may be the course for many, many COVID survivors."

The most commonly reported long term symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), include:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Joint pain
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty thinking and concentrating (sometimes referred to as "brain fog")
  • Depression
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Intermittent fever
  • Fast beating or pounding heart

That's why doctors and groups like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) said it's important for seniors to get vaccinated when it becomes available to them.

SEIU, the nation's largest health care worker union, said many nursing home workers and residents are skeptical of the shots, with a poll showing those who already survived it are concerned the vaccine could put them at risk again.

SEIU also said many seniors have seen so much death, they're afraid of whatever is coming next, something doctors said is understandable. 

But, doctors and the SEIU cautioned about the damage done to survivors, some of whom are ending-up on oxygen, others who find they can't walk and are confined to a wheelchair. 

"Part of the big misunderstanding about [the] COVID Illness is that, yes it's true that only a fraction of people get seriously ill  — 6-7% — those people get very, very ill," Campbell said. "And those people often have long-term consequences."

Campbell also said that another significant motivator seniors should consider when it comes to getting the vaccine is that while they are only 16% of the population, they are 80-90% of the death from the novel coronavirus, depending on where they live.

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