While many seniors have now received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, the increase of the Delta variant – and potentially others – are increasing the need to continue to be vigilant. Flu and pneumonia season is also on its way, and if we learned anything throughout this pandemic, it’s that masks and vaccinations make a big difference in protecting everyone’s health. Many of the suggestions highlighted below are things we’ve all been doing during the pandemic, and they’re great reminders for continued protection.
A Background on Flu Season for Seniors
As we age, changes in our immune defenses can make seasonal illnesses such as influenza more dangerous in older adults when compared to those in their younger years. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults older than 65 are at high risk of developing complications, such as pneumonia, from the flu. In recent years, 85% of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people older than 65, and 50 to 70% of flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among the same age group.
The flu can look different on each individual; however, common symptoms include cough, fever, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue. Flu activity often peaks between December and February, but activity can last as late as May. While contracting the flu might not seem like a big deal, if flu-related complications occur, it can cause severe health problems and even death.
According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, the flu increases the risk of heart attack by three to five times, and stroke by two to three times in the first two weeks of infection for those older than 65. Pneumonia, an infection of the lungs, often develops as a result of flu symptoms and can become a serious complication if unaddressed. Flu symptoms often include cough, fever, shaking, and chills.
According to Healthline Magazine, if you experience any of the following symptoms, seek medical treatment immediately:
Severe cough with large amounts of mucus
Shortness of breath
Severe chills or sweating
A fever higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit
Preventing the Flu in Older Adults
While developing flu-related complications is common among older adults, there are simple steps you can take to reduce the risk of contracting the flu. Here are a few ways you can work to keep yourself healthy and reduce the high risk of flu:
Get the flu and pneumonia vaccine
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the best way to protect against the high risk for flu and its complications is by getting the vaccine. Flu vaccines are updated each season to keep up with how the virus changes each year. The flu vaccine can reduce the severity of the flu, decrease the length of the illness and protect against any flu-related complications.
Older adults might also consider getting the pneumonia vaccine, as the illness can be deadly for those age 65 and above. It’s also important to note that getting the flu vaccine helps stop the spread of the virus in your community.
Wash or sanitize hands
Washing your hands with soap and warm water can help disinfect your hands and prevent the illness from entering your body. If you don’t have soap and water, an antibacterial hand sanitizer will also be effective.
Wear a mask
Wearing a mask when in public is one of the best ways you can prevent the flu. It’s especially important for those who actively have the flu – or feel like the flu might be coming on – to wear a mask to protect others from contracting the illness.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Eating a healthy diet and regularly exercising helps keep the immune system functioning effectively and can even help reduce the risk of getting a cold or the flu. Staying hydrated can also help your body fight off infections more effectively.
Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth
It’s common to touch your face without thinking about it. However, during flu season, it’s especially important to keep your hands away from your face. When we touch our faces, cold and flu germs can enter the body, causing us to get sick.
Clean your environment regularly
Keeping your home clean, especially in high-touch areas such as the kitchen and bathroom, can help reduce the risk of illness. It’s also important to pay special attention to things we touch often, such as doorknobs, light switches, and counters.
Sanitize mobile devices
Even germs from our phones can get us sick. Clean your mobile device regularly with sanitizing wipes, especially after being out in public.
Avoid travel and crowds
In addition to keeping your distance from those who are ill, it’s also helpful to avoid large crowds and poorly ventilated spaces. Being indoors can also increase your risk of catching the flu from an infected individual.
Increase vitamin C and protein intake
Studies have shown that vitamin C can help fight off infection and boost the immune system. You can find vitamin C in foods such as citrus fruits, peppers, broccoli, and brussels sprouts. Low-protein diets can weaken the immune system, so be sure to eat enough protein during the flu season. Chicken, fish, eggs, and yogurt are all great sources of protein.
Caregiving Tips for the Flu Season
Flu symptoms typically begin one to three days after being in contact with an infected individual. This means caregivers may be exposed to the virus without knowing it. Whether your loved one becomes ill or you’re just trying to navigate the flu season as a caregiver, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
Clean regularly. If you or someone you’re caring for gets sick, it’s important to maintain a high level of cleanliness within the house. This means throwing tissues in the trash can, consistently disinfecting surfaces such as bedside tables, bathroom surfaces, and doorknobs. Be sure to clean used linens, utensils, dishes, bed sheets, and towels in hot water to disinfect them completely.
Find ways to manage your stress. Stress can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of contracting seasonal illnesses. Caregivers should actively try to reduce stress through exercise, counseling, or spending time engaging in their favorite hobbies.
Watch for warning signs of complications. Influenza can quickly shift to a complex illness that can negatively impact overall health. Caregivers should watch for warning signs of complications, which can include severe dehydration, wheezing, chest pain, seizures, vomiting, or confusion.
Navigating Flu Season at Maplewood Senior Living
At Maplewood Senior Living communities, we know how dangerous the flu can be for older adults. That’s why our culinary team uses the freshest ingredients and offers foods packed with vitamin C at every meal. Our hospitality team ramps up cleaning and disinfecting efforts, while medical staff members administer the flu vaccine to keep residents happy and healthy all season long. To learn more about these offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.