Coronavirus symptoms, diarrhoea

Older people display “more varied and wide ranging COVID-19 symptoms”, NCF report reveals

By Bethany Hemsley

Older people display a wider and more varied range of COVID-19 symptoms and have an unpredictable illness trajectory and recovery, a report by the National Care Forum (NCF) and the University of Leeds has revealed.

The report – LESS COVID:  Learning by Experience and Supporting the Care Home Sector during the COVID-19 pandemic looked at the experiences of frontline care home staff during the first few months of the pandemic to identify the lessons they have learnt about the symptoms, progression and management of COVID-19 in older people (aged over 65 years) in England.

It also presents helpful strategies for care home managers and staff to manage the care and support of older people in care homes during subsequent waves of COVID-19 outbreaks.

Common symptoms identified in older people included diarrhoea, vomiting and increased confusion and falls.

Of those who were severely ill, about half were described as going on to die very quickly (within hours or days) and half were described as having a slow recovery with ups and downs (several weeks). Deaths could be sudden or at about day eight or 10.

A proportion of older people also presented post COVID-19 syndrome (or long COVID-19). Indications of this included abnormal falling, decreased appetite, weight loss, and being susceptible to other secondary infections, such as urinary tract infection.

Liz Jones, policy director at the NCF says: “This research is essential reading for all those involved in providing care for older people in this new world of COVID-19. It highlights the lessons learnt from the frontline of care at the height of the pandemic and offers some valuable insights and recommendations to help us respond effectively to future waves of COVID-19.

Liz Jones, policy director at NCF
Liz Jones

“It looks in detail at what had worked well, or what more was needed, for providing the best care and treatment and lessons learnt for supporting older people in care homes. The practical ideas and actions suggested will help us to find better ways to manage the virus to inform our future response in subsequent waves.”

She adds: “We hope that this research will be of value to both care homes that have already experienced COVID-19 and those that have not yet experienced an outbreak of the virus.”

The findings of the report also highlight systemic issues associated with underfunding, limited integration across health and social care and a lack of wider recognition and value of the contribution of the care home sector and its staff.

Liz Jones continues: “Many of the suggestions in this research involve actions that can be grasped by the sector; however, there are levers and actions needed that are beyond the control of the sector and need support and action from government. These include resolving the ongoing testing and PPE supply uncertainties; working in genuine partnership with the sector and putting the individual needs of older people at the heart of policymaking.”

Read the full report here.

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