COVID-19 is a very dangerous disease, but risks are not equal to everyone. Older people are facing higher risks of complications from COVID-19 and should be protected more. Now scientists at the University of Birmingham have shown that frail individuals are much more likely to die from COVID-19.
Frail old people are in an extreme risk group in this COVID-19 pandemic. Image credit: Helgi Halldórsson via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Frailty is a very common symptom of aging. As we get old, our bodies start breaking down and we lose physical strength. This happens to a point when it becomes difficult to stand up, walk and do some daily activities, revolving taking care of yourself. Not all older people are frail. In fact, many people who belong to a higher risk age group for COVID-19 are rather strong. However, those who are frail are three times more likely to die from COVID-19 after infection than those who are not frail.
This information came from a study involving 5,711 patients with COVID-19 at 55 hospitals across 12 countries. Scientists took a look at people’s age, the level of frailty they have and what kind of COVID-19 outcomes they were facing. Study showed that frail people with COVID-19 are much more likely to die from this disease, but that is probably not that surprising, having in mind that frailty can be defined through increased vulnerability of the body. Even those that did survive the infection suffered more and were seven times more likely to go on to need increased care at home or in care homes. Finally, this study showed that delirium does not seem to be associated with an increased risk of mortality from COVID-19. Delirium – clouding of the mind – is a very common symptom of COVID-19, but it probably does not increase the risk of death.
This study shows that risk groups have several levels. Old people are at a higher risk level, but frail old people are even more likely to die from COVID-19. Dr Carly Welch, senior author of the study, said: “Our findings are important as we have been able to demonstrate that not only older age but also frailty, independently from one another, increase the risk of death from COVID-19 and also a subsequent increased need in care for survivors”. Doctors will have to pay more attention to frail patients and staff at senior homes will have to be especially protective of the weaker residents. COVID-19 will leave many survivors who will no longer be able to take care of themselves and we need to be prepared for that.
Understanding risk groups is important because the world will open up, but protecting the most vulnerable will be important for the years to come. As vaccines are rolling out you may think that we will be free from this pandemic very soon. However, it is likely that COVID-19 will be bothering us for a long time and we need to understand who is at the highest risk and needs more attention from medical professionals.