• By Jason Howland

COVID-19: Older adults have higher risk of serious illness

March 18, 2020

Adults over 65 are more at risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"So there are two major factors that cause the aged immune system to be much more vulnerable to new threats, such as COVID-19," says Dr. Jessica Lancaster, a Mayo Clinic immunology researcher. "First, as we age, we start to produce less new immune cells that are able to respond to new sorts of infectious disease."

"Secondly, as we age, the immune system has a delay in its ability to coordinate itself. There is a delay in the communication among all the different types of immune cells, and, so, the aged immune system is much more slow at clearing an infectious disease."

Watch: Dr. Lancaster explains why older adults are at higher risk of serious illness because of COVID-19.

Journalists: Broadcast-quality sound bites with Dr. Lancaster are in the downloads at the end of the post. Please courtesy "Jessica Lancaster, Ph.D. / Immunology / Mayo Clinic."

What actions can be taken to protect the older population from exposure to the virus? The CDC recommends that older people should:

  • Stay home as much as possible.
  • Avoid crowds.
  • Avoid cruises and nonessential air travel.
  • Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others.
  • Keep away from others who are sick.
  • Wash your hands often.

"Also, we should sneeze into our elbow or cough into your elbow to avoid spreading germs on our hands," says Dr. Lancaster. "And also encouraging our elderly to have healthy lifestyle choices, such as getting enough sleep; being hydrated and nourished; and also maintaining social interactions with them, so that we can tell if there is a difference in their health status."

The CDC advises to watch for potential COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath. And call your health care provider if those symptoms develop.

Check the CDC website for additional updates on COVID-19.
For more information and all your COVID-19 coverage, go to the Mayo Clinic News Network and mayoclinic.org.