A new study published in the journal The BMJ has found that older adults commonly develop a new medical condition after recovering from COVID-19 infection. The experts report that 32 out of 100 older adults who were infected with COVID-19 in 2020 developed at least one condition requiring medical care shortly after infection.
The conditions varied across major organ systems, ranging from the heart and kidneys to lungs and liver. Mental health complications also developed. Few studies have investigated the risk of new medical conditions emerging in older adults after COVID infection.
To address this gap in data, scientists used health insurance records to find 133,366 adults 65 and older who were diagnosed with COVID-19 before April 1, 2020. These patients were then compared to three groups that had not been infected with COVID, including one group which suffered from lower respiratory tract illness.
The researchers recorded any new or persistent conditions occurring 21 days after a COVID-19 diagnosis. The scientists calculated the excess risk of conditions triggered by COVID-19, over a period of months based on age, sex, race and whether patients were admitted to the hospital for COVID.
The study showed that 32 percent of those diagnosed with COVID-19 in 2020 sought medical care after COVID-19 infection for one or more new conditions. This was 11 percent higher than the comparison group. Those who were infected with COVID-19 were more likely to develop several conditions including: respiratory failure, dementia and fatigue.
Individuals who had the greatest risk of developing a new medical condition were African Americans, men, patients who had been admitted to a hospital, and people over 75 years of age.
The scientists acknowledge that this is an observational study, and it cannot establish a cause. However, the researchers have issued the following warning:
“The number of survivors with sequelae after the acute infection will continue to grow. These findings further highlight the wide range of important sequelae after acute infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”
“Understanding the magnitude of risk for the most important clinical sequelae might enhance their diagnosis and the management of individuals with sequelae after acute SARS-CoV-2 infection.”