As colder weather sets in, so does the threat of seasonal flu. Influenza—an extremely contagious virus that can present as mild to severe—can pose a higher risk to older adults, especially those over sixty-five. This is partly because as people age, their immune systems weaken.
Consequently, older adults with chronic health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory issues who get the flu are more susceptible to developing pneumonia or bronchitis and have an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. However, recognizing your loved one’s vulnerabilities and taking proactive steps to limit their risk of flu infection can help keep them safe. Encourage them to adopt the following guidelines to better ensure they have a healthy winter season.
Consider getting the flu vaccination
The flu vaccine is specifically designed to provide immunity against the prevalent strains of the influenza virus each year. It is safe for most people and highly recommended for adults over sixty-five. Although it may not be as effective for older people due to their weakened immune systems, research indicates that flu vaccines have proven effective in lowering the likelihood of flu-related hospital admissions. It’s also recommended that older adults get the high-dose or adjuvanted version, as it offers more robust protection against the virus. Furthermore, the vaccine’s effectiveness increases the earlier it is given in the season, ideally by the end of October. Always make sure your loved one consults with a health care provider before being vaccinated.
Wash your hands
Emphasize the importance of handwashing and respiratory hygiene to your loved one. Remind them to wash their hands frequently with soap and water for at least twenty seconds or use antibacterial gel throughout the day and avoid touching their face, mouth, or nose. Also, encourage them to be mindful to only cough or sneeze into a tissue or their elbow to avoid spreading infections to others.
Wear a mask
Respiratory droplets containing viruses, bacteria, or other microbes are generated when an individual who is infected coughs, sneezes, or talks. While a mask alone cannot guarantee complete protection against these droplets, it can effectively reduce the likelihood of infection when used alongside other safety precautions.
Limit exposure to crowds
Older adults with preexisting conditions should avoid crowded places, including malls, gyms, and theaters during flu season. Instead, they should socialize in smaller groups or at home. If your older loved one must attend a crowded event, like a large holiday gathering, practicing good hygiene such as washing their hands frequently and wearing a mask can help ensure their safety.
Avoid others who are sick
Encourage older adults to prevent close contact with individuals who are sick. If someone in their household is ill with the flu, it is recommended that they stay in separate rooms and use a different bathroom if possible.
Clean and disinfectMaintaining a clean living environment is essential to reducing the risk of flu virus transmission. Remind your loved one to regularly disinfect high-touch surfaces in their home, including doorknobs, light switches, and countertops.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Getting adequate sleep, eating a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals, and staying active can improve circulation, reduce stress, and enhance the body’s ability to strengthen its immune system and fight the flu.
Know the warning signs
Educate your loved ones and their caregivers about the warning signs of the flu. These can include high fever, severe headaches, muscle and body aches, fatigue, sore throat, coughing and sneezing, shortness of breath, and chest discomfort. It’s crucial that they seek medical attention within the first forty-eight hours of symptoms onset; otherwise, antiviral treatments are less likely to shorten the length of the illness or relieve some of its symptoms.
Prevention is the key to flu protection, and a little effort can go a long way in safeguarding the health and well-being of your older loved ones.