Flu season is upon us, most likely following its usual pattern of peaking between November and February, sometimes lasting as late as May. And while the CDC says there’s no way to predict its severity from year to year, one thing we know for certain is the particular dangers it poses to seniors. Because immune systems weaken with age, people 65 and up are not only at greater risk for contracting the illness; they’re also more likely to develop serious – even life-threatening – complications. Here’s what you need to know this season to keep your parent or loved one safe:
- Know your flu shots: According to the CDC, the best way to prevent disease is by getting the flu shot formulated specifically to each year’s particular strain (in other words, last year’s is no longer effective). But geriatric physicians recommend seniors go a step further and consider newer, more potent options designed to protect those with weaker immune systems. The “high-dose” flu vaccine contains 4 times the amount of flu antigen as is contained in the regular shot. Those adults 65 and older who got the high-dose injection had 24% fewer disease outbreaks than those who took the regular dose. In addition to flu prevention, seniors should also be up to date with their pneumococcal vaccines to prevent pneumococcal pneumonia, meningitis, and bloodstream infections – all of particular danger to seniors.
- Get serious about hand washing: We all know well the preventive benefits of hand washing in terms of both preventing and spreading illness. But at the height of flu season, it’s critical that Dad takes the utmost care to achieve the highest level of protection. Take five minutes and make sure he’s following the 60-second rule:
- With warm running water, create a later that extends two inches above the wrists (about 20 seconds)
- Wash palms, sides, and backs of hands, as well as between fingers and under fingernails (20 seconds)
- Rinse hands thoroughly and dry with paper towel (20 seconds)
- Know when to seek treatment: Unfortunately, all the preventive steps in the world can’t protect everyone from getting sick. If Mom or Dad shows signs of developing flu – cough, fever, congestion, aches, fatigue, nausea – it’s critical that they’re seen ASAP, as antiviral medications are more effective the earlier they’re given. The most effective ones are also prescription only – another reason to skip pharmacy browsing and head right to the doctor.
- Know when to seek emergency care: You should seek medical attention right away if Mom or Dad exhibits any of the following: sudden dizziness; difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; confusion; pain or pressure in the chest/abdomen; persistent vomiting; or the development of a worsening or severe cough.
For more information on staying healthy in flu season, head to Aging.com.