According to the Centers for Disease Control, the flu season typically runs through May, so it is never too late to get a flu vaccine. This is especially true for the elderly, who may be more vulnerable to the flu than other populations. Seniors with the flu are a serious concern, especially if they have other health conditions that may weaken their immune systems. One of the main risks of the flu for elderly people is the possibility for developing pneumonia, because it can develop quickly and take up to several months to recover from.
The flu vaccine may not offer protection from every strand of virus, but it can also lessen the severity of the symptoms if your loved one does contract the flu. Ideally, you and your senior should receive the vaccine between late September and November, but even late winter and early spring can still have some benefits in reducing the flu risk.
In addition to the vaccine, there are other common-sense approaches to preventing flu in the elderly.
- Washing hands thoroughly and regularly is one of the best approaches to resisting viruses and bacterial infections. You or a caregiver may need to supervise to ensure hand washing is adequate. You may also want to offer hand sanitizer when access to a sink is limited or difficult.
- Encourage your loved one to avoid touching hands, eyes, and mouth as well. These facial features are where germs are most likely to enter the body, so breaking any habits of frequent contact can offer another layer of protection.
- Healthy habits, such as regular exercise, getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated, and eating a well-balanced diet rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals are essential for fighting disease of any sort, which is why it is a smart tactic for seniors with the flu.
This next bit of advice may be more of a challenge, especially if your loved one is in a residential care facility: try to avoid sick people. If there is a flu outbreak where your father lives, you should ask administration what steps they take to keep the residents healthy. Your loved one may need to stay isolated from the general population until the epidemic seems under control.
Make It All Better
What if you suspect your loved one has the flu? Get him or her to the doctor as quickly as possible for testing and an anti-viral prescription, if he or she can take it. For these medications to work, they should be administered without two days of getting sick. They do not cure the flu, but they can shorten the duration of the illness and lessen the severity of the symptoms your senior may be experiencing.
Here are some other tips to keep your loved one comfortable while recuperating:
- Offer plenty of liquids to thin any congestion and stay hydrated
- Use a humidifier to keep mucus membranes moist
- Chicken soup is more than just a meal; it can actually lessen inflammation associated with colds and the flu
- Stay away from others to protect them from the flu, or wear a mask when in public
If your senior is having worsening symptoms or difficulty breathing, have him or her seen by a medical professional without delay. Seniors with the flu are more likely to develop pneumonia, which can be life-threatening in the elderly. It’s not a chance you want to take. In fact, it’s a good idea to get your loved one vaccinated for pneumonia at the same time as the flu, especially if it has been over three years since the last vaccination.
You’ve got your work cut out for you, but hopefully this advice can help you and your senior stay healthy throughout the winter.