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How COVID-19 is impacting American seniors

  • How COVID-19 is impacting American seniors

    The COVID-19 pandemic has rippled around the world, but for older people, the risk and social stresses are elevated. In America, older people are supported by Medicare and public benefits like Social Security—thankfully, these services continue and have helped seniors to cope with the pandemic. But seniors face higher risks of complications, more likelihood to catch the virus from a visitor, and more.

    Stacker compiled a list of 25 ways the COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately affecting older Americans, using data from the CDC, AARP, the Center for Medicare Statistics, and even the IRS. People who live in care homes around the country may be at the greatest risk for the factors that affect seniors, combining close quarters with a steady stream of healthcare workers. Even when everyone exercises great care, the small likelihoods still add up.

    The CARES Act that sent stimulus money to many Americans also added some robust protections that benefit seniors. That includes expanded uses for HSA funds, expanded limits and reduced penalties on 401k withdrawals, and a suspension of spending requirements on retirees. But without further action, other financial issues faced by seniors will become problematic. In just the first quarter of 2020, 401k values fell 19%. Social Security recipients turning 60 this year could lose 9% of their future benefits based strictly on the 2020 economy.

    That’s on top of the many reported health issues that seniors face, from increased complications from COVID-19 to the basic elevated risks associated with any hospitalization. In states where cases are surging now, cases in care homes are surging way more. Seniors are less likely to have good outcomes from ventilators, and they spend more time in the hospital than others. Even seniors who have mild COVID-19 at home must be cared for with more vigilance.

    Experts encourage seniors to make plans and explore all their possible resources in order to really limit these risk factors. Read on for 25 of the biggest ways the pandemic has disproportionately affected seniors.

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  • Expanded uses for HSAs

    Older Americans may have health savings accounts (HSAs), and the 2020 CARES Act has expanded what you can buy with that money—now including over-the-counter drugs and health aids, something previously the purview of flexible spending accounts (FSAs) only.

  • The fall surge

    In November, AARP reported that in 12 of the states with surging COVID-19 numbers, cases among care home residents and staff have risen at least 40%. Care homes have taken precautions more seriously than almost anyone else but still face high rates.

  • Necessity to make a plan

    For seniors who contract even mild cases of COVID-19, logistics and care are more complicated. They may need to make new plans for home meal delivery and other services.

  • Hospital complications

    Older patients with COVID-19 are more likely to experience complications like blood clots and infections. These risks are elevated for all older people who are hospitalized and aren’t specific to COVID-19.

  • Need to take care with older people

    The CDC says risk for COVID-19 complications increases with each decade past 60, with the highest absolute risk among people over 85. For these people, it’s tantamount to take precautions and be as protected as possible.

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  • Stress and anxiety

    Medicare reports that 46% of recipients said they’ve felt more stressed and anxious during the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s 51% of women respondents and 39% of men.

  • Different vaccine efficacy

    Many of the vaccines in development use immune technology that may not work as well for senior populations. Pfizer, in particular, has said their vaccine does work just as well for seniors.

  • Using HSAs for telehealth services

    The 2020 CARES Act has expanded rules for health savings accounts (HSAs) to include coverage of telehealth services and other remote care. About 60% of Medicare recipients reported having access to telehealth.

  • Half of care homes affected

    AARP reports that over half the nation’s 15,000 care homes have at least one confirmed case of COVID-19 among their staff members. It’s logistically and financially difficult to send these workers home, creating challenges in their absence.

  • Houses of worship offer resources

    Seniors are more likely to belong to houses of worship. These groups may offer special services that can help support their members through the pandemic.

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