September 11, 2013

By Diane Walker, RN, MS, CSA

Getting a cold or — even worse — the flu is a miserable inconvenience for anyone. For an older adult, the outcome can be worse than a few missed days at work or the inability to enjoy one’s activities, it can be much more serious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “…90% of seasonal flu-related deaths and more than 60% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations in the United States each year occur in people 65 years and older.” Older immune systems tend to be weaker which allows the flu to turn into more serious conditions such as bronchitis and / or pneumonia.

While an illness can hit anyone at anytime, there are ways to prevent developing a cold or the flu. The best way to treat a cold or flu is to not get it in the first place. Prevention is key. Seniors and their caretakers should keep the following tips in mind to keep an older adult healthy:

  • Build Up Your Immune System – Sleeping well, eating well – including lots of fruits and vegetable – managing stress levels and drinking lots of water can help build a healthy immune system to fight off any cold or flu.
  • Kids Can Equal Germs – Grandparents love nothing more in this world than their grandchildren. Unfortunately, with kids come germs, and all those hugs and kisses can transmit germs to an older adult. Care should be taken around older family members living in a home with children so as not to pass germs these germs to them. Also, adults that work with children will want to be careful when spending time with elderly family members to not pass germs along.
  • Wash Your Hands – Your mother was right when she told you to wash your hands before meals. Washing your hands often throughout the day will keep many germs at bay.
  • Watch Where Your Hands Go – On average, people touch their faces 3.6 times per hour and touch common objects such as tables, phones, and doorknobs 3.3 times per hour. This is one of the most common ways germs can be transmitted from person to person. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth as much as possible to prevent germs from being transmitted to those locations.
  • Keep Your Distance – Sometimes, it is a good thing to be a little anti-social during cold and flu season. Keeping distance between yourself and people who are ill is a good step in avoiding a cold. Elderly individuals should consider keeping their distance in cars and elevators or in areas where large groups of people congregate, such as malls.
  • Get A Flu Shot – This goes without saying. According to the American Lung Association, all adults over the age of fifty needs to get a seasonal flu shot according to the American Lung Association.
  • B12 Shots – B12 shots can help strengthen seniors’ immune systems. An older adult should consider monthly B12 shots. Elderly adults can see many benefits from the shots beyond better immune systems.

Warning Signs of a Worsening Condition

If an older adult does develop the flu, it is important to be on the lookout for possible danger signs that might indicate that they have developed a more serious condition such as pneumonia. Please seek immediate attention if you notice your loved one experiencing any of the following:

  •     Shortness of breath
  •     Chest pain
  •     Violent vomiting
  •     Confusion

Following a few preventive measures and keeping a close eye on an older adult can help to keep them from getting the flu or a cold in the first place. If they do become ill, keeping these tips in mind may stop the flu from turning into something much more serious.

Tags: flu prevention, colds, seniors, winter