While people of all ages should take steps to reduce their chance of catching influenza, it's particularly important for seniors to make an effort to avoid the condition. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 50 to 70 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations occur among people 65 years or older due to their risk of serious complications from the illness.
As the flu season has arrived, health professionals should encourage older patients to stay healthy and take advantage of preventative measures to avoid catching the virus. Here are a few basic tips that you can suggest to seniors as winter approaches and the flu virus starts to spread.
Consider getting the flu shot
Your patients may be debating whether to get the flu vaccine this year, as there are many misconceptions about the side effects and effectiveness of the shot, especially for older adults. It may help to point out that the CDC highly recommended seniors over 65 get the flu vaccine, as it's the most effective way to avoid the condition. The Fluzone High Dose Flu Vaccine was designed for older patients to improve the effectiveness of the shot.
The CDC also noted that research has found the flu shot reduced the number of hospital admissions among people 50 years or older by 77 percent during the 2011-2012 flu season. Educating patients on the facts and debunking any common myths will help them decide whether they want to get the shot.
Keep hands clean
People should always wash their hands after using the bathroom and before eating. However, this becomes particularly important during flu season. Prevention magazine explained that the most common places for germs to enter the body are through the nose, mouth and eyes. Encourage your patients to avoid touching these areas of their faces and to wash their hands to lower the number of germs they carry. One study by researchers from the University of Michigan found that regular hand washing can decrease the potential of respiratory illness transmission by over 20 percent, noted Prevention.
Get plenty of sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults over 65 years old should get at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night to maintain their physical and mental well-being. When seniors are tired or start to feel under the weather, it's particularly important to get this much sleep, or more. In fact, Mark Mengel, M.D., chair of community and family medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, told Health magazine that he recommended 10 hours of sleep to older adults who are fighting an illness.
Practice healthy lifestyle habits
Exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet will improve immune function to help the body ward off the flu. Encourage older patients to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and begin working out. Exercise can include anything from going on a brisk walk to participating in one of the workout programs available at patients' assisted living facilities. Physical activity is key to good health because it makes immune systems stronger and better able to protect people from viruses.
Avoid sick people
Remind seniors that they should avoid close contact with friends or family who have come down with the flu. The CDC advised disinfecting any surfaces that have been touched by a sick person so that germs aren't transferred to whoever touches them. Similarly, stress the importance of staying home when sick, as this will prevent the flu from spreading.
Source: Sunrise Senior Living