It's the time of year when the flu runs rampant through families, schools, and communities, and if you're getting older, you simply can't be too careful when it comes to protecting your health.
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Why Seniors and Their Families Need to Be More Cautious During Flu Season
Aging Immune Systems
It's no secret that as adults age, their bodies aren't as strong as they were when they were younger, and that includes immune systems. Older adults are more susceptible to catching both bacterial and viral infections, like the flu.
Closer Living Quarters
Adults in senior living communities- especially closer-knit assisted living communities- are likely to have more close contact with others. And more close contact with others can mean more close contact with their germs. The CDC identifies adults who are "residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities" as a high-risk group for developing dangerous flu-related complications.
For many seniors, the flu itself isn't a major risk, it's the complications that may come with it. Adults ages 65 and older are at especially high risk for developing serious flu-related complications that can lead to pneumonia and other serious ailments.
While all of these things can seem scary, the good news is that there are many things seniors can do to protect themselves from the flu, and there are many things that children and grandchildren of seniors can do to help protect their aging parents and grandparents as well.
How You Can Protect Yourself and the Ones You Love
During cold and flu season, general health rules still apply: get plenty of rest, stay hydrated, eat a balanced diet, take your medications and vitamins, get regular check-ups, and keep in touch with friends and family. As you do those things, you're easing the burden you might otherwise place on your body to try to make up for a lack in those areas, thus diverting its precious resources to where they're needed most: beefing up your immune system.
The flu shot isn't always effective in flu prevention, and it isn't for everyone, but it may be beneficial. Consult with your doctor to find out if a flu shot might be right for you.
You've likely heard it a million times, but it's because it's true: you need to wash your hands! Studies from around the world have shown that frequent hand-washing can stop infection in its tracks, so make sure it's a regular part of your routine. If soap and water aren't available, hand sanitizer is a good alternative.
Watch That Cough
Researchers at MIT have recently discovered that coughs and sneezes may travel up to twenty-five feet and remain in the air for up to ten minutes. That's plenty of time to get sick. If you have a cough or you need to sneeze, be sure to cover your mouth and nose, ideally with a tissue. If none is available, cough or sneeze into your elbow- that way you'll be less likely to contaminate your hands. If you have a persistent cough that remains following an illness and you will be visiting with an older family member, you may want to consider wearing a medical mask, just in case.
Avoid Face Contact
It's easy to get into the habit of rubbing our eyes or noses without thinking about it, but when we do we could be providing a convenient transport into our bodies for the flu germs picked up by our hands during the day. Keep a clean tissue handy for those times when you might need to attend to an itch or dab at an eye.
If You're Sick, Stay Home
When we have loved ones living away from us, we certainly miss them and want to visit with them, but think carefully before you make a visit during cold and flu season, especially if you're bringing young children along. Senior living communities are kept clean for residents' protection, and while younger immune systems might be doing a fine job fighting off outside germs and getting us through a cold or flu, our older loved ones' immune systems might not be up to the challenge. If you begin to experience any cold or flu like symptoms, like a runny nose, cough, fever, or congestion, trade that planned visit for a phone call instead. You can also get creative and surprise your loved one by sending flowers, a handwritten letter, or even a postcard.
See Your Doctor
If you're a senior and you start to experience cold or flu symptoms, check in with your doctor right away. Together you can make a plan of action to help steer you clear of any dangerous complications and get you feeling better as soon as possible. If you are concerned that an older parent or loved one is feeling under the weather, encourage them to seek medical attention. Remind them that medical problems are not like fine wine- they usually don't get better with time!
Cold and flu season is a pain, but it's also a great time to get back into the practice of healthy habits that keep us- and our loved ones- healthy all year round.