Shorter days, a slight chill in the air, changing leaves — and a fever, sore throat, body aches and fatigue. As fall transitions into winter, the dreaded flu season tags along for the ride. While everyone can end up feeling the wrath of influenza, seniors, as a group, are the most susceptible to the virus. The flu is a very serious concern for seniors — 54–70% are from people 65 years and older — so they and their caretakers should make sure to take preventive measures.
Get the Flu Shot
Each flu season for seniors should start with getting a flu shot — though this does not just apply for seniors but for everyone, especially those who come in regular contact with someone over the age of 65. Seniors should get flu vaccines each year before November, but the earlier a senior gets their vaccine, the better, as it takes about two weeks to fully take effect.
The two vaccines that are designed for people over 65 are the high-dose vaccine and the adjuvanted flu vaccine known as Fluad. The high-dose vaccine gets its name from the fact that it contains four times as much the antigen as the regular-dose flu shot. This vaccine has proven to be 24% more effective than the standard dose in seniors. Fluad is designed to generate a more powerful immune reaction from the vaccine. This will be the first year it will be available to patients in the United States after proving to be about 63% more effective than the regular dose of the flu vaccine for seniors in Canada.
Both flu vaccines come with the risk of minor side effects such as pain, redness, headaches, muscle aches and malaise. There is a fear among some that the flu shot can cause other more serious side effects, but this is extremely rare.
Know the Symptoms
Every year the flu vaccine is altered to best match the most common strand of flu that season. With that being said, certain strands of the flu can sneak into a senior’s body despite being vaccinated. The next important step in being proactive this flu season is being able to recognize the symptoms of the flu as well as the complications that can occur as a result of the virus. The flu, which generally resolves anywhere from two days to two weeks, is different from the common cold and can come on suddenly. The flu may not attack two bodies in the same way, but flu patients may experience most, if not all, of the following symptoms: fever, chills, sore throat, coughing, runny nose, stuffy nose, headaches, body aches and fatigue.
Seeing the doctor is important when a senior is suffering from the virus as the complications that can arise can be very serious. In seniors, the risk is much greater in developing pneumonia because of the infection in the upper and lower respiratory tracts. Complications that can arise from the flu are sinus and ear infections as well as the inflammation of the heart, brain or muscles. The body’s fight against the flu can even cause sepsis, and it can also exacerbate chronic illnesses.
Seniors should be aware of the symptoms and complications, and they should see their doctor at the first sign of any potential flu symptoms. Doctors will generally administer anti-viral drugs, which are most effective during the first two days of the symptoms.
The complications of the flu are the major cause of hospital visits associated with the virus in seniors. Protecting the body from them is equally as important to being proactive about the flu. Since one of the more serious complications of the flu is pneumonia, being prepared for it is just as important as being prepared for influenza. Seniors should check in with their doctor to make sure they are up to date on pneumococcal vaccines that protect again pneumonia, meningitis and blood infections. It is possible to get an up to date pneumococcal vaccine when seniors receive their seasonal flu vaccine.
Prevention With Good Health Habits
While nothing is more important for a senior than getting vaccinated this flu season, there are other things that seniors and the people around them can do to help prevent the spread of the virus.
- Seniors should avoid close contact with people who are already sick or showing early signs of the flu. A caretaker should not feel obligated to take care of a senior loved one if he or she is sick, as the virus can easily be transmitted to the senior — causing a serious situation. Leave caretaking to those who are not sick.
- Stay home or in the hospital when sick. Seniors should not try to go to work, go shopping or visit loved ones while they are experiencing flu symptoms. Caretakers should be responsible for going food shopping or taking a trip to the pharmacy while a senior is sick. The only place a senior should go outside the home while suffering from the flu is the doctor’s office. Not only will this help prevent the spread of the virus, but it will also help with the recovery process as the senior can take the time to rest and relax.
- If you are sick, make sure to cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. Seniors and those around them can help prevent the spread of the virus by following this simple instruction. Instead of using your hands, however, use a tissue and dispose of it immediately — do not stuff a used tissue it back into your pocket or purse!
- Avoid touching the nose, eyes and mouth. These are the gateways to the body in which the flu virus enters.
- Wash your hands. Simple soap and water can go a long way to stop the spread of the flu virus.
- Eat healthy — lots of fruits and vegetables — hydrate and exercise regularly. These are the best ways to keep the immune system healthy so that when flu season does come around, the body is in the best shape to fight the virus off.