Flu Season Tips For Protecting The Health Of Seniors and People With Disabilities

January 9, 2015

Senior Flu TipsWe may have made it through the busy holiday season, but the 2015 flu season is now in full effect and poses especially dangerous risks to seniors and people with disabilities or weakened immune systems. Now is an especially important time to take precautions to protect those you care for and to avoid spreading the flu to your loved ones, including receiving the influenza vaccination and refraining from visits if anyone is exhibiting symptoms of the flu.

The latest report from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) shows that at least 43 states are experiencing either high or widespread flu activity, particularly from the H3N2 virus. This particular strain of the flu poses the threat of more severe illness and mortality rates, especially in older people and those with compromised immune systems compared to H1N1 or B-predominant seasons. Years of study have shown that hospitalization rates are almost always highest among people 65 years and older, and this year is no exception. The CDC estimates that around 90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths and between 50 and 60 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations in the US occur in adults over 65.

Now that you know how serious the flu season can be, especially for seniors and those with compromised immune systems (including heart disease, blood disorders, cancer and more), it’s time to take action and help avoid spreading the flu! Here are 5 helpful flu season tips for protecting the health of senior and people with disabilities.

  1. Get the flu shot every year

This applies both to seniors, those with disabilities, and their caretakers. Getting vaccinated is the number one way to protect against the viruses that cause the flu. Don’t be misled by people who say it won’t protect against everything. The CDC announced that this year’s vaccine will help protect against 3–and in some cases 4–of the most common flu strains. The vaccine can also help improve recovery time if you do get sick. Everyone six months of age and older should be vaccinated annually, and this is especially true for seniors and caregivers. Talk to your doctor about a special higher-dose vaccine often recommended for people over 65.

The CDC recommends getting the vaccine as soon as it is available every year. But if you or your loved ones haven’t yet received one for this year, it’s not too late. The flu season is still going strong and getting the vaccine now can still help protect you and those you care for.

Remember that Medicare covers an annual flu shot and there is no charge if administered by a recognized provider. And in some cases, flu shots can be administered at your local pharmacy. Check with your healthcare provider to find out which flu vaccine is right for you and your loved ones.

  1. Learn about the risk of complications

Seasonal influenza can bring days of misery for people of any age. But for seniors and those with compromised immune systems, the flu can cause serious complications, including pneumonia and other infections, sometimes leading to disability, loss of independence and even death in some cases.

Older adults are more likely to have weaker immune systems and medical conditions such as diabetes, stroke, and diseases of the lungs, heart, and kidneys, which raise the risk of complications. Some medications that seniors take may also raise the risk. Talk to your healthcare provider about your loved ones risk of flu complications.

  1. Take steps to avoid spreading the flu

Getting the flu vaccine is only the first step in protecting against seasonal flu, but there’s more that you can do to help protect seniors and disabled loved ones. Even if they’ve received the flu vaccine, seniors and their loved ones should take the following precautions to avoid the spread of flu viruses and other infectious diseases:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water – Alcohol-based sanitizers aren’t as effective, but are a good substitute when water is unavailable.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick – And if you get the flu, stay home and avoid visiting loved ones, especially seniors and those with compromised immune systems.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue if you sneeze or cough.
  1. Protect your senior friends and loved ones

Family caregivers, healthcare providers, and other people who come into contact with elderly people or those with chronic health conditions, need to be vaccinated. And if you do get the flu or begin exhibiting flu symptoms, it is vital that you stay home and not visit your senior friends and loved ones, especially if they live in a care facility. The flu can spread like wildfire in a senior care center or facility for disabled adults, and exposure from visiting relatives or caregivers with the flu virus poses a dangerous, even deadly, risk to those living there.

Now is a good time to develop a contingency plan in the event that you as a caregiver begin to exhibit flu symptoms to ensure that your loved one still gets the care they need without being exposed to the flu. Talk to your doctor if you begin to exhibit symptoms of influenza.

  1. Know what to do if a senior or disabled loved one gets the flu

Developing a plan before you or your loved ones get the flu is a great idea. The CDC recommends that people over 65 and those with compromised immune systems seek medical attention if they begin to develop flu symptoms. Flu symptoms can include:

  • Fever (though seniors sometimes do not develop a fever, making self-diagnosis difficult)
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Cough
  • Sore Throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle aches

Care and treatment may include:

  • Antiviral Medications – The CDC recommends that people who exhibit signs of the flu and are at high risk for complications receive prescription antiviral medications even if they have received the flu vaccine.
  • Drink plenty of water and non-alcoholic fluids.
  • Get plenty of rest, but not too much – It’s important to take it easy and get plenty of sleep, but don’t stay in bed all day. Seniors and those with weakened immune systems need to get out of bed and sit up occasionally to help the lungs and prevent pneumonia.

To learn more about protecting seniors and people with disabilities in your life, visit the Flu.gov portal and talk to your health provider. By taking these precautions you can help keep those you care for and yourself healthy and safe this flu season. What precautions are you taking to help prevent the spread of the flu this season? Let us know in the comment section.

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