For most people, the flu is a temporary annoyance that plunges their house into disarray and loses them a week of work. But for some — especially seniors and those with weak immune systems — the flu can be lethal. Ninety percent of flu-related deaths and up to 70 percent of flu hospitalizations occur in seniors. In the 2016-2017 flu season, more than 12,000 seniors died. The great tragedy here is that the flu is almost completely preventable. Here’s how you can keep your senior loved one healthy this flu season.
Get a Flu Shot
The flu shot greatly reduces the risk of getting the flu, and of spreading it to others. Seniors should get a flu shot at the beginning of flu season, as should family members and other people who spend time with seniors. If your senior is in adult day care or another program that works with groups of people, ask if all staff receive flu vaccines.
The flu vaccine is very safe, with a low risk of complications. The most common complications are mild — temporary arm or shoulder pain at the site of the injection. Moreover, the risk of dying from the flu is exponentially greater than the risk of suffering a serious complication from the flu shot.
Seek Prompt Treatment for Flu Symptoms
Tamiflu is an antiviral medication that can help fight flu symptoms and prevent the infection from getting worse. If a senior develops symptoms of the flu, treatment within a day or two can reduce the risk of hospitalization and other serious complications. Know the signs of the flu and see a doctor right away when they appear. Some differences between the flu and a cold or other illness include:
- Flu symptoms tend to appear suddenly.
- The flu almost always causes a fever.
- The flu usually causes body aches and chills.
- The flu usually causes a headache.
- Most people suffering from the flu experience intense fatigue, while the fatigue of other illnesses is usually mild, or appears only gradually.
Monitor for Other Illnesses
The flu isn’t the only illness that threatens senior health. Strep throat, bronchitis, and even the common cold can cause serious symptoms in seniors, especially when left untreated. Even if a senior does not have the flu, it’s important to see a doctor for signs of illness that last longer than a few days, or for any infection that causes a fever.
Practice Diligent Hand-Washing
Hand-washing is the single most effective strategy for preventing the spread of all illnesses, including the flu. Seniors and those who love them should wash their hands:
- Before eating
- After using the restroom
- After sneezing or coughing
- Before preparing food
- After going out in public
- After hugging people or shaking hands
- After being around someone who is coughing or sneezing
Stay Away from Sick People
Going to work or tending to a loved one when you’re sick is not a badge of honor; it’s a choice that can be lethal to people with weak immune systems. Avoid going out in public if you’re sick, and keep sick seniors and kids home, too. Ask a doctor how long the illness’ contagious period will last, and practice frequent hand-washing and other strategies to reduce the risk of contagion when someone is sick.
A safe environment can keep seniors healthy and active during flu season and beyond. If you’re concerned about your loved one’s health, consider a move to senior living. The right community practices diligent hygiene to prevent the spread of the flu, while offering activities and special events that keep seniors feeling young.