Covid-19 killed more than half a million people in the U.S. as of February this year, making it the number one cause of death in the country. Deaths peaked at 95,000 this January. Almost all or more than 95 percent of deaths to date were among those aged 50 or older.
A study in Nature Medicine Journal this March shows that people aged 50 and older experienced longer durations of Covid-19 symptoms, of 28 days or more, linked with hospital confinement and symptom relapses. Women, those who are overweight, and those with asthma as a pre-existing condition are also more likely to have Covid that lasts 28 days or more.
Early symptoms during the first week of Covid-19 that predict long duration are fatigue, headache, shortness of breath, hoarse voice, and body pain. Three to four weeks into their illness, those with long duration Covid still experience fatigue, intermittent headaches, loss of smell, lower respiratory symptoms, cardiac symptoms, ringing in the ears, earache, pins and needles, and numbness in the body.
Women and Covid
Women in their 50s face more difficulties as they must confront the dangers of Covid-19 while they are also facing the challenges of menopause.
Menopause alone is already a huge life-changing experience that can last up to five years. Women must manage weight gain and slower metabolism, deal with hot flashes, treat vaginal dryness, handle incontinence, address sleep problems, and reduce night sweats during menopause. They can have sore chests, joint and muscle pain, fatigue, tingling sensation in their extremities, weak bones, hair loss, and brittle nails. They can experience headaches, dizziness, allergies, and itchy dry skin. They can have trouble concentrating and experience memory lapses, irritability, mood swings, depression, anxiety, and panic disorder.
During menopause, a woman’s estrogen levels drop. Certain studies show that those with lower levels of estrogen can have a higher risk of having severe symptoms and serious complications when infected by Covid-19.
This is different from Covid-19 with long duration. The latter means that the patient has the virus for a longer time. Having long Covid, on the other hand, means that a person experiences symptoms of the disease even when the virus is no longer detected in the body. Long Covid is also different from the condition of those who suffered chronic damage to their lungs, heart, kidneys, or brain from Covid-19.
Doctors and medical tests often find nothing wrong with people who are suffering from long Covid. Despite this, they report experiencing shortness of breath, inability to exercise, fatigue, body aches, headache, difficulty sleeping, loss of sense of smell or taste, brain fog, difficulty concentrating, and cognitive problems.
The Johns Hopkins ongoing study on long Covid cites recent research findings that 10 to 30 percent of Covid-19 patients report having prolonged symptoms after recovering from the virus. This translates to millions of Americans since there are already more than 28 million cases in the country. Doctors call these people long-haulers and many of them had only mild to moderate Covid-19 and were not hospitalized.
Dr. Anthony Komaroff, editor-in-chief of the Harvard Health Letter, wrote this March that long Covid is most likely to develop among people above 50 and those with two or three pre-existing chronic diseases.
Dr. Komaroff considers long Covid sufferers as those who are still experiencing symptoms for at least a year after recovery from the virus. He adds that there is no data yet on how long it can last.
Unemployment at 50 and Older
In addition to the dangers of Covid-19 and long Covid, people aged 50 and older are facing job loss during the pandemic. According to AARP, in the first six months of the pandemic, those aged 55 and older had a 17 percent higher chance of losing their jobs compared to younger workers.
In January this year, two million people aged over 55 were jobless. Half of them did not have jobs for at least six months, facing great financial difficulties.
This is despite the Age Discrimination in Employment Act that does not allow employers to show prejudice based on age. An article on Foreign Policy surmises that employers disregard this law because they can avoid charges by claiming that they are hiring based on other factors like physical fitness. They also do not have to pay victims “pain and suffering” damages.
Age and Covid
Before the pandemic, people aged 50 and older were living more active and productive lives than their predecessors of years past. The coronavirus changed all these.
Today, 50 has become a demarcation line that separates those who are facing more dangers from Covid-19 and long Covid and makes them more vulnerable to economic hardship.
It is a difficult time to be aging. Hopefully, as vaccines are rolled out that are effective against emerging variants of Covid-19, those aged 50 and older will have more protection and will once again be able to join the workforce.