Cooler weather brings many wonderful things: cozy fires, hot drinks, beautiful fall colors. But it also means the approach of flu season.
While all people are at risk of contracting the flu, most healthy adults can fight off the flu in a couple of weeks without any lasting effects. People over the age of 65 are at greater risk of complications from this illness. Those complications can range from mild ones, like a sinus or ear infection, to more serious ones, like myocarditis (inflammation of the heart tissue) or multi-organ failure. Studies estimate that over half of the deaths from seasonal flu are seniors, and up to 70% of those hospitalized for the flu are over 65.
Clearly, seasonal flu is an important concern for the seniors in your life. Here are some ways to keep your elderly loved ones in good health this season.
1. Ensure the senior in your life gets a flu shot every year
Even if your senior had a flu shot last year, they need to get a new one this season because the vaccine is updated to better fight the flu every year. The Center for Disease Control recommends annual flu shots for everyone over the age of 6 months. There is no reason someone from an at-risk group — like a senior — shouldn’t have their flu shot.
There are 2 vaccines that are specifically designed for seniors: a high-dose vaccine and an adjuvanted vaccine. Both are designed to create a stronger immune response to the vaccination.
Three vaccines should not be used by the senior population: the nasal spray vaccine, the jet injector vaccine, and the intradermal flu shot. Consult your loved one’s doctor for further information.
2. Ensure everyone around the senior gets a flu shot.
Because the vaccine is only 70 to 90 percent effective, even some of those who are vaccinated will get the flu. Therefore, it’s just as important that everyone who is around your loved one — their friends, family, and caregivers — gets the vaccination, too.
This is especially important if a senior lives in a nursing home or assisted living, where there are large communities in close quarters. This makes transmission of the illness much easier. If your loved one lives in a setting like this, find out about standards and requirements for vaccines in the community.
3. Keep pneumococcal vaccines updated.
One of the biggest risks for seniors who contract the flu is the development of pneumonia. Seniors should have their pneumococcal vaccination updated when they get their flu shot to ensure protection against this dangerous complication. The pneumococcal vaccination protects against all pneumococcal disease, including meningitis and other blood stream infections.
4. Be consistent with health habits.
This is one of the easiest and most important ways to protect your senior this flu season: wash your hands. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze (then wash your hands again). Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth whenever possible.
While this is a general practice, it’s important to start considering the fragility of your loved one’s immune system. Try to protect them by being more aware of your actions and sensitive to their needs.
5. Don’t hesitate if your loved one exhibits flu symptoms.
Antiviral drugs can be useful in treating those with the flu, but they need to be used early in order to be most effective. During this season, it’s better to be over cautious. Symptoms of the flu include a runny or stuffy nose, fever, chills, body aches, cough, sore throat, and fatigue. The fever is not always present — some people have respiratory symptoms of the flu with no fever. Occasionally, vomiting and diarrhea will indicate the flu. Monitor the senior in your life closely for these symptoms and contact a doctor immediately if you suspect they might have the flu.
These precautions can help protect seniors and keep them healthy during a vulnerable time of year. Make sure everyone gets a flu shot, ensure your senior is up to date on pneumococcal vaccinations, be consistent with health habits, and monitor your senior’s health carefully during flu season. If you follow these steps, it’s very likely your family will be able to enjoy all the good things about autumn without any flu season worries!
Posted on 9/21/2016 at 3:18:00 AM