As autumn makes its return, one unwelcome visitor that often arrives with it is the influenza virus. While many of us think of the flu as a few unpleasant days of illness, the truth is it can be much more serious for seniors. Complications such as pneumonia are common in seniors. Older adults account for as much as 85 percent of flu-related deaths and up to 70 percent of hospitalizations.
One prevention measure most people are familiar with is the annual influenza vaccine. Considered to be the gold standard for guarding against the flu bug, most years it is easily accessible at your doctor’s office or local pharmacy. But the flu shot isn’t the only way to protect yourself during flu season. There are lifestyle choices that also play a role in keeping seniors safe and healthy as the virus begins to make its rounds.
5 Prevention Steps to Help Seniors Avoid the Flu
1. Limit close contact: One thing we all learned during the COVID-19 crisis was how much social distancing helps lower person-to-person transmission of viruses. While this might be more difficult to do during the upcoming holidays, it is an effective prevention measure. The influenza virus is easily passed through personal contact (i.e., a hug or handshake) or even by being in close proximity to someone who is sick and doesn’t realize it. Limiting the amount of time you spend in public when flu season peaks can also help protect you.
2. Wear a face mask: The effectiveness of masks is another prevention measure we all learned over the past few years. As the coronavirus escalated, those who wore masks were less likely to develop COVID-19 or the seasonal flu. When the flu is spreading in your area and you need to go grocery shopping or attend a public event, consider wearing a mask.
3. Practice healthy self-care: Keeping your immune system strong is another way to lower your risk for developing the flu. A healthy diet combined with exercise and a good night’s sleep are key. It’s also important to drink water and eat foods with high water content so you stay well hydrated. Finally, see your doctor for a physical if you haven’t done so recently.
4. Wash your hands frequently: Healthy handwashing hygiene is important anytime of year, but especially so during flu season. Research shows the flu virus can live for several hours on door handles, handrails, shopping carts, counters, and more. When you are out in public, make sure to wash your hands with hot, soapy water whenever you have access. For times you can’t, keep a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you.
5. Don’t touch your face: Have you ever paid attention to how many times a day you touch your face? It might be to rub irritated eyes or scratch an itchy nose, or push the hair off your face. Researchers say you might be touching your face as often as 16 times an hour! If you’ve come in contact with the influenza virus and have it on your hands, touching your face increases the likelihood you will get sick.
Despite your best efforts, you might find yourself coming down with the flu. Though no medications can cure it, there are prescription antiviral drugs that are known to lessen the severity of symptoms and shorten the length of time you are sick. But these prescription medications must be taken in the earliest stages of the flu to be effective.
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