Proactive Steps to Prevent the Flu in Older Adults
Fall is upon us. The change in season often brings an increased risk for cold and flu, especially in older adults. When younger adults catch a bug, they are generally sick for a day or two but can quickly shake it off. For seniors, however, the influenza virus can be deadly.
Because older adults often have weaker immune systems, they are more susceptible to complications including pneumonia. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 80 – 90% of the flu-related deaths that occur each year are adults over the age of 65.
Preventing Flu in Seniors
Because the flu virus can be life-threatening to our senior loved ones, it’s important to begin preparing now. Here are three preventative measures you can take today to keep aging loved ones healthy and protected during flu season.
- Get a Flu Shot: The yearly flu shot is the single best step you can take to prevent influenza. It is critical for high-risk populations like seniors or adults with compromised immune systems to be vaccinated. Because the flu virus changes every year, the shot must be administered annually. Getting the vaccine in late September or early October can ensure you or your senior loved one are protected against early outbreaks of the virus.
Also remember that if you are a caregiver or if you work or live with older adults, you should consider getting a flu shot too. It can help prevent you from catching the flu and spreading it to the senior.
Older adults in the Seattle area have two different flu shot options. The first is to get a regular flu shot available to anyone. The other choice is to receive a higher dose vaccine designed specifically for adults age 65 and older. Both shots protect recipients against the same three flu viruses, but the higher dose vaccine has been shown to be 24% more effective in preventing flu in older adults. Talk with your doctor to decide which is best for you.
- Practice healthy hygiene: Your mother really did know best when she told you to “cover your mouth when you sneeze.” Everyday preventative measures like that one, are the some of the best steps you can take to avoid being bitten by the bug. Carry pocket-sized tissues with you during flu season. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow or shoulder.
Be more mindful of washing your hands frequently. For times when you won’t have access to hot water and soap, keep alcohol-based hand sanitizers in your purse, desk at the office and your car. Always avoid touching sensitive areas like your eyes, nose, or mouth.
When you are in public, be sure you avoid frequently touched objects and surfaces, including doorknobs, water fountains, faucets and phones. It can help you avoid coming in contact with germs left behind by someone who has the virus. Wearing a respiratory mask that covers the nose and mouth can also help protect adults who have weakened immune systems.
- Seek Help Early: People often delay calling their physician when the signs of flu first appear. But there are medications that can help stop illness from being as severe. They must be administered early, however, to be affective. Flu symptoms include fever or cold chills, runny or stuffy nose, cough, and sore throat. Body aches, headaches, tiredness, vomiting, and diarrhea are also common. Call your primary care physician if you or your aging family member develops any of these symptoms.
Keeping these basic influenza prevention tips in mind can help you and the older adults you love stay healthy and flu-free all season long!