• Susan L.

Older Adults and the Flu

It is the holiday season, and we are in constant contact with family members, children, friends and co-workers at holiday parties. And let's not forget the crowds of people at the store. This is the time of year that we all love, but it is also the time of year to get sick. For older adults, this can be a potentially dangerous time of year! As we age, our immune systems are not as effective as they once were when it comes to fighting off colds or the flu. The unpleasant symptoms such as chills, aches and pains, high fever, and stuffiness, can quickly progress into pneumonia. This serious disease kills thousands of people every year.

There are steps you can take to reduce your risk of getting the flu. Getting a flu shot is important, especially for the elderly. Even though there are no guarantees that you won't get the flu, it can greatly reduce your chances of getting it. And even if you do get the flu after getting the vaccine, it can lessen the severity of your symptoms and you are less likely to end up in the hospital. If you are age 65 or older, there are flu vaccinations that are designed for older adults that produce a stronger immune response. There is one type in particular, that is four times as strong as the standard vaccine.

Since flu shots usually take up to two weeks to become fully effective, it is a good idea to get one before flu season is in full swing. However, even if you put it off, it is never too late to get your flu shot. Flu shots are covered by Medicare and most private insurance plans.

Another important way to protect yourself from the flu is by practicing healthy habits. These tips can help:

1) Wash your hands, and scrub with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Always wash your hands before eating, cooking, after using the bathroom, being around someone who is sick, sneezing, coughing, or blowing your nose.

2) Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth as much as possible, because they are easy places for germs to enter your system. Frequently clean surfaces in your home, such as door knobs, computer keyboards, television remotes, and other places that can harbor germs.

3) This may sound obvious, but try to avoid people who are ill. This is even more important for elderly people with weakened immune systems, who can catch the flu or colds more easily. Keep grandchildren and other family members away until they are no longer contagious.

4) Maintain a healthy lifestyle. This should include getting enough sleep, eating nutritious foods, and regular exercise.

If you do happen to get sick, pay attention to your symptoms. Cold symptoms come on gradually, and are usually followed by sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, coughing, sore throat, and a low-grade fever. Flu symptoms can also include a cough, but other symptoms such as a high fever, chills, fatigue, and often times nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, can come on more suddenly.

If you think you have the flu, you should see your doctor right away. Since older adults are at a higher risk for developing flu related complications, they could benefit from prescription antiviral medications that could reduce the severity of the illness, if taken at least 48 hours from the start of having symptoms. Most people can recover from a cold or flu within a few days to a week, but keep in mind that both could easily turn into an emergency. If you or your loved one is experiencing shortness of breath, confusion, dizziness, persistent vomiting, or chest pain, you should seek immediate medical attention.

Wishing everyone a healthy and happy holiday season!