Flu Prevention in Seniors

Hand Washing

Courtesy Rambling Oaks Courtyard Assisted Living Residence

Flu season is underway and prevention is important, especially for seniors who are at increased risk of complications from the virus. Flu season typically runs from October through the end of February. It is estimated that 10 to 20 percent of the U.S. population contracts influenza each year.

Flu (Influenza) is a highly contagious illness that is spread by tiny respiratory droplets as a result of someone coughing or sneezing. Typically, flu virus is spread from person to person; however, people also become infected by touching an object that was recently contaminated with the virus, such as a doorknob or shopping cart, and then touching their mouth or nose. Flu symptoms may include one or all or the following symptoms: fever, chills, runny or stuffy nose, headache, sore throat, cough, extreme fatigue, and muscle aches. Occasionally, symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are present, but these are not usually the primary symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), each year more than 200,000 people will be hospitalized because of the flu, and approximately 36,000 of them will die. A large portion of those infected are seniors in their seventies and eighties due to declining immunity to illnesses as they age.

An average healthy adult will recover from the flu in approximately 7-10 days, while senior citizens are at risk for experiencing more serious complications. These complications include pneumonia and other respiratory disorders. Additionally, chronic health conditions common among seniors, such as congestive heart failure, diabetes and renal failure could be exacerbated by the flu. Furthermore, dehydration is a serious concern that could lead to complications. Drinking an adequate amount of fluid is especially important for seniors recovering from the flu.

Getting vaccinated annually is the single most effective way to protect seniors from getting the flu. If someone does become infected with the virus, staying away from crowded places such as work or stores while sick is vital to prevent spreading the flu to others. Unfortunately, this is not an option for seniors living in nursing homes or assisted living communities, which makes senior flu prevention more difficult in these senior settings. Therefore, it’s especially important that everyone around the senior population also get vaccinated, especially those directly involved in taking care of the elderly. To remedy the issue, most long term care communities usually require all employees to receive an annual flu vaccination.

Practicing good hand hygiene is vital to prevent the spread of flu during flu season. Frequent hand washing, especially after making contact with objects such as door knobs and rails in common places is a necessity. Remember to cover your nose and mouth while sneezing and coughing, and thoroughly wash afterward. Lastly, try to stay away from people who are sick or have the potential to be sick. These common sense senior flu prevention techniques are especially important in long term care environments.