Peak flu activity occurs between December and February, however, influenza viruses circulate year-round. In order to be proactive about your health, it’s especially important for seniors to be vigilant and take the necessary steps to help prevent them from getting the flu. While flu symptoms usually include coughing, fever, headache, sore throat and runny nose, there are many serious complications that can also result from influenza viruses. Having asthma, heart or lung problems, cancer, kidney or liver disease and other chronic medical conditions could increase your risk of complications from influenza.
Not only can flu symptoms be a hassle to deal with, influenza has led to between 140,000–810,000 hospitalizations annually since 2010. Due to immune defenses which become weakened with age, seniors bear the greatest burden of severe flu – with between 50% and 70% of the seasonal flu-related hospitalizations occurring among people 65 years and up. There are between 12,000–61,000 flu-related deaths annually, and between 70% and 85% of these occur among people 65 years and up.
Learn more about the burden of influenza in the U.S. from the CDC, then find helpful tips for seniors and caretakers which can help prevent you from coming down with the flu this season, and next!
1. Washing Your Hands
Germs can live on any surface for two or more hours. From door knobs to elevator buttons, shared keyboards, tables, books and more, the reality is that most surfaces likely have flu germs on them as a result of being touched by someone infected with the flu. A good tip to avoid contact with some of these germs is to use a paper towel or cloth to open a door, use the towel dispenser, etc. While it’s obviously difficult to avoid touching everything around you – washing your hands several times a day is an easy and valuable precaution to take to prevent the flu.
It might seem like a no brainer to wash your hands often (especially during peak flu season), but this won’t be effective if you aren’t doing it the “right” way. That means instead of just a quick splash of water, you should always use soap, warm water, and rub hands together for 15-20 seconds. (Singing ‘Happy Birthday’ song twice while rubbing is an easy way to ensure you’re spending enough time.) For the times that you can’t make it to the restroom right away, keeping hand sanitizer gel close by helps you take care of pesky germs in the moment.
2. Get the Flu Shot
While taking daily precautions and following various lifestyle tips for preventing the flu are important, the single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year. Receiving a flu shot prompts your immune system to produce antibodies which help the body fight off the types of flu virus that are present in the vaccine. Seniors are considered to be a high-risk group for influenza, so it’s important for them to get this vaccine yearly. New vaccines are created and released every year to keep up with changing and adapting flu viruses.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved a high-dose flu vaccine (Fluzone High-Dose) for people 65+. This vaccine contains four times the amount of antigens compared to a normal dose – which is more effective than the regular vaccine in older individuals, due to the immune system response weakening with age.
Do not get the flu shot if you’ve had a previous bad reaction, egg allergy, mercury allergy, or a fever on the day of the vaccination. Talk to your doctor to determine if you are a good candidate for the flu vaccine.
3. Having a Healthy Diet
Maintaining a healthy diet year round is another effective way to help your body fight off the flu. A balanced diet helps to boost your immunity, which is essential for preventing the flu virus. Get the essential nutrients and antioxidants to help boost your immune system by eating a diet that is plentiful in whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy, healthy fats, plus fruits and vegetables – especially those rich in vitamins A and C. To get the amino acids that your body needs to build the components of your immune system, protein sources such as lean meats, dairy, eggs, and legumes are a great source.
4. Drink Water
In addition to maintaining a healthy diet with the foods you eat, staying hydrated also makes your body less susceptible to the flu virus. It is generally recommended to drink between 8-10 8-ounce glasses of water per day. That number should increase if you are factoring in heat, some medications, humidity, etc. Drinking more water increases the oxygen in our bodies, since it is made of oxygen, which improves our body’s cellular respiration and results in better functioning body systems. Water also aids in the removal of toxins, helping to prevent a buildup which could have a negative impact on your immune system. Not a fan of drinking plain water? Adding a lemon can give it a great, refreshing taste while also adding vitamin C, which is known to boost the immune system.
5. Maintain an Exercise Routine
While seniors are generally aware of the many health benefits of maintaining an active lifestyle, it’s also important to note that regular exercise helps boosts your immune system – in turn, helping your body to prevent getting the flu. Additionally, like with the senior age group, overweight and obese people are considered to be in a high-risk group for influenza, so maintaining a healthy weight with exercise can help reduce your chances of getting the flu virus.
6. Avoid Crowds and Other People Who are Sick
Last but not least – avoid close contact with people who are sick, if you can help it. While it may be difficult to completely avoid crowds and public places during flu season, wearing a medical face mask is commonplace these days and is a good precaution for high-risk groups, like seniors. These can be purchased at your local drug store or picked up from your doctor’s office, and can go a long way to help prevent the flu. If you do come down with the flu or another virus, wearing a mask is also a great way to help prevent spreading your germs to others. Following some of the other tips, like washing your hands regularly and keeping hand sanitizer on you, can also be effective when you’re around people who are sneezing, coughing, or displaying other symptoms.