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Delaying medical care can be harmful to older adults

August 13, 2020 | UCI Health
Dr. Lisa Gibbs, director of the UCI Health SeniorHealth Center and professor of geriatric medicine at the UCI School of Medicine

“Our patients need to know that we’re very protective of their safety,” says Dr. Lisa Gibbs, director of the UCI Health SeniorHealth Center. Photo credit: UCI Health

Across the country, older adults with acute and chronic conditions have hesitated to visit medical offices, given that people over age 65 are at greater risk for severe illness from exposure to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

But people with these conditions — such as diabetes, hypertension and heart ailments that require regular monitoring — are also vulnerable to experiencing complications from their underlying disease if care is postponed, says Dr. Lisa Gibbs, medical director of the UCI Health SeniorHealth Center.

“Older people shouldn’t delay medical care that is considered essential” says Gibbs, who also is a professor and chief of the Division of Geriatric Medicine at UCI School of Medicine. “Ongoing care saves lives.”

Some medical checks can be done with online videoconferencing, but many do require in-person visits. Gibbs says patients can be reassured that safety protocols are in place at the SeniorHealth Center and at all UCI Health locations to prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

“We now understand much better how this coronavirus is transmitted, and we have the knowledge to stop its spread,” she says.“We are being extremely careful. We’re creating an environment that we would consider safe for our own families.” 

Needed care

Medical appointments that should not be postponed include:

  • Screenings. Colonoscopies, mammograms and other regular check-ups are important for older adults because the risk of breast and colon cancer increases with age. And a colonoscopy can even reveal precancerous polyps that can be removed and prevent cancer from forming.
  • Vaccinations. Shingles and pneumonia vaccines are advised for older patients, as is the annual flu shot, which is even more critical to get this year because of the coronavirus.
  • Monitoring chronic conditions. Patients with diabetes and high blood pressure need continued monitoring to avoid complications to eyes, kidneys and circulation.
  • New symptoms. Schedule an appointment at the onset of any new symptoms, such as chest pain or difficulty breathing, so your doctor can determine whether they may signal a serious condition.

Protecting patients

Patients who visit their UCI Health doctors at the SeniorHealth Center will notice a variety of safety measures to prevent exposure to COVID-19:

  • Healthcare providers and employees wear masks and are screened daily for fever and other symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Patients are also screened and asked to wear masks.
  • Exam rooms are cleaned between each patient's visit.
  • Surfaces throughout the center are wiped down regularly throughout the day.

“Our patients need to know that we’re very protective of their safety,” Gibbs says. “We’re working to ensure their needs are met, in person and with telehealth visits. We want them to prioritize care that maintains their health and reduces the chance of emergencies.”

Stay cautious

Older patients still must be careful to avoid COVID-19, says Gibbs. She recommends continuing to shelter in place and staying away from places where people may not be wearing masks or following distancing guidelines.

Regular exercise is also important, not just for health but also to reduce stress levels, she says. Staying in touch with friends and family, by video chat or in person if social distancing and masking is observed, is also good for emotional health.

“The hardest thing about COVID-19 is that a lot of older people with illnesses have had to suffer alone,” Gibbs says. “We want to prevent illness in the first place.”

Learn more about UCI Health COVID-19 safety measures (video) ›

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