For many adults, cold and flu season can mean several inconvenient and uncomfortable days at home spent weathering some unpleasant symptoms. However, the time of year can have even greater and potentially more dangerous implications for seniors. What may manifest as a fever, aches and a cough for younger individuals can develop into a serious health risk for older adults. For this reason, prevention is an especially important aspect of senior care. Here are a few facts about seniors and influenza, as well as some tips for keeping your home, care facility or senior living community flu-free this winter.
The flu may hit seniors harder
Nobody likes getting sick, but for older adults, contracting the flu can be downright dangerous. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, those over 65 may be at higher risk for getting the flu, since the body’s immune system tends to weaken with age. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pointed out that between 50 and 60 percent of flu-related hospitalizations every year are attributed to seniors, and the over-65 demographic accounts for 90 percent of flu-related deaths annually. This is because seniors are not only more susceptible to the flu, but are more prone to developing flu-related complications if they do contract the illness.
The importance of prevention
Despite its prevalence, there is still no cure for the flu, and even treatment options are somewhat limited in their effectiveness. Thus, encouraging prevention is especially important for keeping seniors healthy during the winter. The most significant measure people can take is to get vaccinated. Flu shots are fairly easy to find – doctor’s offices and even some community pharmacies may offer vaccinations. Considering that, according to the DHHS, Medicare will cover one flu vaccination every season, there’s very little reason to skip this important step.
The flu vaccine gets a booster
Some people opposed to getting a flu shot have cited its limited effectiveness. While the CDC reported that a flu vaccine’s effectiveness can hinge on a number of factors, among them the age of the recipient and the specific strain circulating throughout a given community, getting vaccinated is almost always preferable to not doing so. To further drive home the point, a recent study has revealed a specific type of flu vaccine that is even more effective in older adults than the standard variety.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences found that residents of retirement communities and other long-term care facilities responded more favorably to what is known as a high-dose flu vaccine than the standard strain of immunization. This type of vaccine, licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2009, was specifically designed for older individuals, or those who are more prone to illness due to existing health conditions or weakened immune systems. This high-dose vaccine contains four times the amount of antigens – the components of a vaccine that kickstart the body’s immune response – as the standard vaccine.
Prevention begins at home
Even though a flu shot is one of the most essential parts of staying healthy, it’s still important to take steps within your daily life to encourage hygiene and cleanliness to stanch the spread of germs. Prevention at home begins with the simple act of hand-washing. Caregivers and senior living staff members should place increased emphasis on residents keeping their hands clean before meals and after leaving any common areas where germs may be more concentrated. If possible, provide alcohol-based hand sanitizer in such areas so seniors and staff members alike can stay on top of hand hygiene.