It’s that time of year, when it seems that everyone seems to come down with a cold, cough, or stomach bug. But an illness that might slow down a healthy adult for a couple of days can be much more serious, even deadly, for an older adult with an already weakened immune system. Here are some prevention tips for seniors – and those who care for them – to help beat the bug this cold and flu season.
Get the Flu Shot
The flu vaccine is your best defense against influenza. Studies by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) have shown that the flu vaccine can reduce your risk of getting the flu by 40% to 60%. Even though it’s not a perfect guarantee, it’s still worth hedging your bets, considering how dangerous the flu can be for older adults. Nearly 80 percent of people who die from the flu are age 65 and over – that’s a sobering statistic.
That’s why most hospitals and nursing homes, including all Providence Life Services communities, require their employees to be vaccinated. And also why seniors should encourage their family and friends to get the shot, too – not only for their own protection, but for the safety of their older loved one as well. Meeting some resistance? There’s a lot of misinformation on the internet about the flu shot, but this article helps address some of those myths.
Keep Your Hands (and Your Germs) to Yourself
Even though we’re heading into the holidays, which means more time visiting with family and friends, make sure your health is your number-one concern. The flu is one of the most highly-contagious diseases, and is spread through microscopic droplets in the air whenever someone with the illness breathes, coughs, or sneezes.
If a get-together is part of your holiday plans but you’re starting to feel under the weather – stay home. Even though it’s a bummer to miss out on a party, you’re keeping those you care about safe. And if you find yourself at a party with someone who’s got the sniffles, keep your distance and avoid unnecessary touching like hugging or shaking hands.
Practice Hand Hygiene
We’ve heard it since kindergarten, but that’s because it’s true – washing your hands with soap and water is the best way to eliminate germs.
Think about all the surfaces you touch in public places: handrails, shopping cart handles, door knobs, light switches… the list goes on, and the flu virus can be hiding on all of them. When you’re out and about, avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes so that you don’t transfer those germs into your system. And when you get home, make it a habit to wash your hands as soon as you get in the door.
A quick rinse and flick won’t do the trick – make sure you’re washing the right way, using soap, warm water, and scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Can’t get to soap and water right away? An alcohol-based hand sanitizer is also a good bet. (The 20-second scrub rule still applies here, too.)
Protect Your Skin
All that handwashing and sanitizing can leave your hands dry and cracked – meaning that you’ve opened up tiny cracks that allow pathogens (germs) to get in. Check out these tips for healthy winter skin to counteract this effect and maintain a healthy barrier to bacteria and viruses.
Drink Plenty of Water
Staying properly hydrated is another great way to boost your body’s natural defenses. Good hydration helps boost your immune system, keeps your nasal passages moist so they can trap germs, and keeps your whole body operating at its best. Check out this blog post for four tips to increase your fluid intake.
Be Aware of the Symptoms
Unlike young and middle-aged adults, many seniors who get the flu don’t have “typical” symptoms like a fever, cough, or sore throat. Unfortunately, the flu is often overlooked or misdiagnosed in seniors, resulting in delayed treatment and further complications. An elderly person who is sick with the flu may instead show these signs and symptoms:
- Dizziness or feeling light-headed
- Loss of appetite
- Delirium (cognitive impairment or a change in mental status)
- Malaise (a general feeling of weakness or discomfort)
- Worsening of an existing chronic heart or lung condition
Providence Life Services wants you to live a healthy, happy, and fulfilling life, well into your senior years and beyond. We offer many types of services and resources for older adults, including senior living options, help at your house, or just someone to answer questions about aging issues. Let us know how we can help!
This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.