Caring for an Aging Loved One With the Flu (Influenza)

December 15th, 2014

The holidays are here and, for many, that means family, food and fun. But it also signals the start of flu season. It’s also important that other family members do their part to ward off infection so as not to pass any illness along to elderly family members, who are more susceptible.

Tips for Avoiding the Flu

Sharon Roth Maguire, a geriatric nurse practitioner and Senior Vice President of Quality and Clinical Operations for BrightStar Care®, prepared tips to help everyone stay safe and healthy this flu season. Maguire recommends the following tips for avoiding the flu:

Get a flu shot. This may seem like a no-brainer, but prevention is key, especially with the flu. If you’re person with a high risk (children, adults over the age of 65 and pregnant women) of contracting the flu, getting a flu vaccination should be completed as soon as they are available. While the flu shot doesn’t protect against every strain of the virus, it protects against the three most common. Elderly individuals should be sure to get the shot and not the nasal spray as the shot is more effective.

Stay hydrated and eat well. Staying hydrated helps your body function properly. If your body is fighting early signs of the flu, it’s even more important to hydrate as your body is working overtime. Similarly, while you may lose your appetite when sick, it’s important to maintain a healthy and nutritious diet. Eating small frequent meals throughout the day when you have no appetite will help you get essential calories and nutrients which are vital to your recovery.

Wash your hands. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water. We touch a lot of different surfaces every day, all containing many germs. Help avoid contamination by washing hands often, and when soap is not available, use an alcohol based hand sanitizer. Research demonstrates that hand washing is the most effective way to reduce the spread of infection.

Stay home. If you’re feeling sick, it’s smart to stay home and rest. Give your body time to recover without putting others at risk of catching the illness.

Rest up. Sleep is very important to the functioning of our bodies. Make sure you’re sleeping enough and add an extra nap if you’re body is feeling weaker.

Avoid contact. Avoid close contact to other people, especially if they are sick. If your loved one lives in an assisted living facility or has a home care provider, make sure staff received the flu shot as well to avoid spreading the illness from other individuals. In addition, avoid the spread of germs and refrain from touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

And, if you’d like to see if the flu has hit a city or town near you, visit http://flunearyou.org.

Practical Tips for Senior Flu Prevention

When it comes to flu prevention and infection prevention overall, seniors aged 65 and over are an important and often more vulnerable segment of the population. Why is this? Well, according to the Center for Disease Control, this is because human immune defenses become weaker with age, making influenza and other infections very serious for the elderly population. In fact, more than 60 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations in the United States each year occur in people 65 years and older.

The good thing about flu season is that there are some things that everyone can do to help prevent the flu. The Centers for Disease Control offers these three tips to keep your seniors and yourself safe from the flu:

  1. Take time to get a flu vaccine. The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses. Vaccination of those people at high risk of catching the flu will decrease the risk of severe flu illness. People at high risk of serious flu complications include young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease and people 65 years or older.
  2. Take everyday actions to stop the spread of germs. Avoid close quarters with sick people. If you have the flu, the CDC suggests staying home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to avoid infecting them. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue away after use. Wash hands often with soap and water, and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread that way.
  3. Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them. If you get the flu, antiviral drugs can treat your illness. Antiviral drugs aren’t antibiotics. They’re prescription medicines and aren’t available over-the-counter. Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatment when started within two days of getting sick, but starting them later can still help, especially if the sick person is high-risk or very sick from the flu. Flu-like symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. In extreme cases, there may be vomiting or diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.

Learn more about senior flu prevention and what you can do to help.

Flu Vaccination

With chilly temperatures and harmful viruses spreading, there’s no better time to get your annual flu shot. But did you know this year’s flu shot will offer protection against H1N1 virus, in addition to two other influenza viruses that are expected to be in circulation this flu season? According to Mayo Clinic, a vaccine that protects against four strains of the virus will also be available, as will a high-dose flu vaccine for adults age 65 and older.

Influenza is a respiratory infection that can cause serious complications, particularly to young children and to older adults. Flu shots are the most effective way to prevent influenza and its complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 6 months of age or older be vaccinated annually against influenza.

  1. When is the flu vaccine available? Because the flu vaccine is produced by private manufacturers, its availability depends on when production is completed. It takes up to two weeks to build immunity after a flu shot, but you can benefit from the vaccine even if you don’t get it until after flu season starts.
  2. Why do I need to get vaccinated every year? New flu vaccines are released every year to keep up with rapidly adapting flu viruses. Because flu viruses evolve so quickly, last year’s vaccine may not protect you from this year’s viruses.
  3. Who shouldn’t get a flu shot? Check with your doctor before receiving a flu shot if you’re allergic to eggs and/or you had a severe reaction to a previous flu vaccine.
  4. What are your flu vaccine delivery options? You can get a shot or a nasal spray.
  5. Who should get the flu vaccine? The CDC recommends annual flu vaccinations for everyone age 6 months or older. Vaccination is especially important for people at high risk of flu complications, including pregnant women, older adults and young children. Children between 6 months and 8 years may need two doses of flu vaccine to be fully protected.

Healthy for the Holidays

Seniors are among the most vulnerable members of our population when it comes to the flu and, once infected, things can escalate quickly. At BrightStar Care, we go to great lengths to adhere to the Joint Commission’s Patient Safety Goals for infection prevention. Whether it’s to shoo the flu or beat the holiday blues, our specially trained caregivers led by our Registered Nurse Director of Nursing, can help seniors stay as healthy as possible with our focus on evidence-based best practices in the areas of infection prevention and health and well-being. Learn more about how we can help you be “Healthy for the Holidays

Resources: