Flu season affects between 5 to 20% of the population each year. With over 100,000 people hospitalized and 36,000 flu-related deaths, influenza, or the flu, is a serious medical issue that is often underestimated until it is too late.
Seniors who are infected with the flu virus are especially susceptible to exaggerated symptoms due to commonly weaker immune systems and physiological reserves. Seniors 65 and over frequently account for upwards of 90% of flu-related deaths and more than 60% of flu-related hospitalizations.
The real secret to dealing with flu season isn’t how to deal with it once it’s arrived, it’s how to stop from getting it in the first place.
7 Ways to Survive Flu Season
- Get Vaccinated. Getting an annual flu shot is the best way to minimize your risk of getting the flu. Period. It’s not even close. Yes, they are not 100% effective, but they can improve your chances by up to 90%, and being 90% effective are good odds particularly if you combine your vaccination with an intentionally vigilant and proactive approach to flu prevention.
- Avoid Crowds. Flu season starts just prior to the holiday season, so we understand how impossible this seems, but avoiding the flu doesn’t mean that you can’t live a full and exciting life. There are other things you can do to mitigate your chances of contracting the flu when you are around family and friends. However, during flu season, do your best to not put yourself in large groups of people if you can help it. Crowds carry germs, and a virus is always looking for new hosts. Try to stay away as much as you can.
- Be Hygienically Proactive. Generations of mothers can’t be wrong, and science seems to back them up. Washing your hands and covering your mouth when you sneeze really do go a long way toward preventing the spread of germs. Along with these two stalwarts, many healthcare professionals advise those that are considered at-risk to carry around hand sanitizer and use it to combat the spread of germs when water and soap are not available.
- Work Hard to Not Touch Your Face. We touch our face an average of 3.3 times per hour. Influenza is spread primarily by entering the body through the mouth and nose. If you are able to limit the amount of times your hands come in contact with these areas, you can greatly reduce your chances of catching the flu.
- Help Your Immune System. While most healthcare professionals can not directly correlate healthy foods fighting off influenza, they are willing to accept that taking care of yourself by eating healthy foods, getting 8-9 hours of sleep each night, keeping stress at minimal levels, and drinking plenty of water dramatically improves your immune system which will be doing the heavy lifting keeping you flu-free.
- Guard Against Pneumonia. Many flu related deaths happen after the flu escalates to more dangerous diagnosis like pneumonia. If you or another senior is considered at-risk, you should ask your doctor if you could also get the pneumococcal vaccine to guard against pneumonia, meningitis, and other cardiovascular diseases.
- Be Careful Around Those you Love. There is nothing that brings a senior joy like being visited by loved ones, particularly grandchildren. This can unfortunately increase the chances of contracting the virus. Of course we want and should have our grandkids and younger family members around, but if they or anyone around them show signs of being sick, an at-risk senior should do their best to keep human contact minimized. It is also a good idea to ask caretakers and loved ones that come in frequent contact with an at-risk senior to get vaccinated as well to lower the chances of carrying the virus.
At risk seniors should always be vigilant and mindful during flu season, but they should not live in fear or let that concern overshadow the many opportunities there are for family, friends, and fun during the holiday winter months. With the proper precautions and rest, along with the recommended vaccinations, flu season can stay in the shadows while you step out into the light.