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In Brief: COVID-19 and Aging, a Tale of Two Pandemics

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a stark contrast in the availability of resources between hospitals and nursing homes, according to a commentary from Dr. Mark S. Lachs, co-chief of the Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. At the same time, Dr. Lachs said, the public health crisis has also opened remarkable research opportunities.

In his commentary, published Jan. 14 in Nature Aging, Dr. Lachs outlined “a tale of two pandemics,” comparing his experiences with those of his colleagues working in nursing homes. He recounts his good fortune working in an institution that he said is “extraordinarily well-run and well-resourced with medical talent and equipment, [and with] … access to the best information, the best personal protective equipment (PPE) and the best coronavirus testing.” However, his nursing home colleagues have been working “underwater” in exceptionally challenging circumstances, with insufficient PPE, resources and funding, Dr. Lachs said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed chronic ageism, underfunding and lack of expertise in geriatric medicine, wrote Dr. Lachs, who is also the Irene F. and Roy I. Psaty Distinguished Professor of Clinical Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. At the same time, he said there are unprecedented research opportunities that merit investigation before the nursing home pandemic subsides.

The fact that a high concentration of cases and deaths occurred within one patient population and setting provides unprecedented opportunities to study disease transmission within, between and outside nursing homes, as well as creative interventions for protecting staff and residents, Dr. Lachs said. Clinical researchers could also study breakthroughs in modern geriatric care, such as rapamycin, a medication that has shown promise in improving the immune response to the flu vaccine in older adults.

Beyond the opportunities for scientific research, Dr. Lachs highlighted the importance of paying attention to the situation of older adults and COVID-19: “It’s just the ethical thing to do for older adults who face daily discrimination.”

Author: Dr. Mark S. Lachs