The Effects of the Flu in the Elderly
While getting hit with the influenza virus, commonly known as the flu, is not a fun experience for anyone, seniors can be impacted far worse than younger adults. This is because as we age, our immune systems start to weaken, which means that a virus like the flu will make us more susceptible to complications leading to infections like pneumonia.
The CDC reports that up to 85% of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in individuals who are 65 years or older, and up to 70% of all flu-related hospitalizations occur within that same age group. Because the flu in the elderly is so serious, it’s important to take some proper precautions to prevent the onset of this dangerous virus.
Preventing the Flu in Older Adults
Cold and flu season is already upon us. It generally starts in October and runs through February, sometimes lasting into April. Influenza is a highly contagious virus, spread by coughing, sneezing and touching. Symptoms of the flu include aches, pains, chills, headache, sore throat, coughing and extreme fatigue. You might be carrying the virus after coming into contact with it, but the symptoms may not appear for several days.
There is no cure for the flu at present time. Doctors recommend lots of fluids and rest, and sometimes may prescribe medications like Tamiflu to help decrease and shorten some of the symptoms. However, these types of medications must be taken within 48 hours of the onset of the virus to really provide relief.
Instead, it’s recommended that the elderly take measures to prevent getting the flu altogether. Some ways of preventing the flu in older people include:
Getting a flu shot.
Vaccinations against the flu can help reduce the severity of your illness. For those age 65 and older, there are two options available. First, there’s what is called the “high dose vaccine” which is designed specifically for older adults. It contains four times the antigens of a regular flu shot. The second option is called Fluad, and helps create a stronger immune response to the vaccination. The CDC reports that seniors who get a flu shot can significantly reduce their risk of getting the flu.
Of course, avoiding large groups at a time can be somewhat difficult, especially for those elderly living within an assisted living or skilled nursing facility. Most senior living communities require residents and staff members to receive the flu shot to help the spreading of the virus. Try to keep clear of people who are coughing and sneezing as much as possible when in a group setting.
Washing hands regularly.
Since the flu is spread easily by touch, remember to wash your hands often, especially after using the rest room, coughing or sneezing, or touching things in common areas, like doorknobs, telephones, tabletops, etc.
Practicing good health habits.
Another step in preventing the flu includes good health habits like covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze with a tissue, then promptly throwing that tissue away. Avoid touching others until your hands are clean, and keep some antibacterial hand gel in your pocket when you can’t get to a sink to wash up.
Visiting the doctor if symptoms arise.
Finally, as soon as you start to notice any symptoms of the flu, it’s important to visit your doctor right away. Your doctor can prescribe the right medications, and can also evaluate your condition; make sure to tell your doctor if any symptoms seem to be worsening.