Flu Season: What Seniors and Caregivers Need to Know

It’s that time of year again where flu season is upon us. Seniors, as well as their caregivers, are most vulnerable to the flu. However, there are certain precautions you can take in order to protect yourself and others.

If you’re over the age of 65, protecting yourself from the flu is serious business. As we age, our immune systems weaken making it difficult to fight illnesses like the influenza (flu) virus. In fact, those over the age of 65 are more likely to be hospitalized or die from the flu. Caregivers play a vital role in keeping seniors healthy during the flu season. However, caregivers are also at high risk for coming down with the flu if they do not take proper precautions.

To help you prevent colds and flu, here are some important tips:

1. Get the flu shot.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone 6 months and older to get an influenza vaccine each year. Contrary to widespread belief, getting the flu vaccine will NOT give you the flu. It is not made with the live virus, therefore cannot cause the flu. It will, however, help protect against the flu, as well as shortening the duration should you come down with influenza. Getting the flu shot will go a long way in protecting each other if one is not able to take the vaccine. Although it is best to get your shot before the season starts (since it takes a few weeks to build up immunity), getting the vaccine part way through the season is still helpful.

2. Wash your hands.
Washing hands frequently is still the best way to prevent colds and flu. You do not need special antibacterial soap, despite what you might think. It’s the friction of rubbing hands together for up to 30 seconds that actually eliminates germs, so plain soap and water works fine. Pay special attention to the back of your hands, under nails, and between all your fingers. If it’s difficult for seniors to get to the sink often, hand sanitizer can also be an effective way to keep hands clean.

3. Exercise.
Not only does regular exercise help keep you healthy, it also strengthens the immune system and can help you cut the duration of colds and flu in half. It may be tough for you as a caregiver to find the time to exercise, or the senior adult may not have as much physical endurance, but any amount of exercise goes a long way in preventing illness.

4. Do not touch your nose, mouth and eyes.
Touching our face is normal and is done without even thinking about it. Germs enter the body through touching eyes and nose and mouth, especially if hands are not washed often enough.

5. Keep your environment clean.
Caregivers can aide in keeping a senior’s home clean during the flu season. Sanitize your environment the best you can by spraying Lysol on commonly used spaces where hands touch often. This includes doorknobs, light switches, and counter tops.

Keep sponges and cleaning rags sanitized. You can do this by putting them in the microwave for 60 seconds, soaking them in bleach or putting them in the dishwasher. Sponges are a huge breeding ground for germs, so it’s best to throw them away and replace them often with new ones.

Wash sheets and bedding often in hot water and dry them on high heat.

6. Disinfect all devices.
One of the most germ-infested areas are television remotes and telephones. Keep all your devices sanitized by wiping them down with rubbing alcohol. Disposable disinfecting wipes can also be used.

7. Don’t be near sick people.
This is perhaps the easiest way to avoid getting colds and flu, and still the best. Don’t be around sick people and if anyone in your house is ill, try to limit contact with them. Also, avoid hand-to-hand contact with sick people, including hugging and shaking hands.

8. Avoid traveling.
The reason colds and flu are so prevalent in the colder months is because people are stuck indoors where ventilation might be poor. Avoid being in crowded places such as airports or subway stations. Traveling by plane is one of the most common ways to get sick due to being in sick due to being in such tight quarters.

9. Drink lots of water.
We’ve all heard our doctors tell us to get plenty of rest and drink plenty of water. This is still one of the best ways to protect yourself against illness. Drinking mostly water is best, although hot tea can also be effective in fighting off sickness. Look for teas with immune-strengthening ingredients such as ginger. Lemon and honey help coat the throat and bring relief to a dry cough.

10. Increase your Vitamin C intake.
Getting extra Vitamins of any kind is a good way to ward off colds and flu, but Vitamin C is especially helpful. Getting vitamins and minerals from our food is superior, but you can aim for 200mg Vitamin C supplements for both caregiver and seniors. Always ask your doctor before taking any herbal or vitamin supplements.

11. Increase your Protein intake.
Getting enough protein is also vital when it comes to avoiding flu. Eat more eggs, fish, yogurts, and green leafy vegetables. Meat does contain protein but can be hard on a sensitive senior’s digestive system, so getting it through dark colored veggies and certain dairy products is best.

If you believe that you have the flu, call your doctor immediately – there may be medications to help. To learn more about the flu please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

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