As our loved ones age, their immune systems weaken. This transforms flu season from a yearly inconvenience into a life-threatening concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that between 70 and 85 percent of flu-related deaths occur in adults over the age of 65.1 Many of our clients’ families have voiced concerns about combating flu season, and we’re here to help. Read on to learn how to prevent the flu in older adults.
Flu Symptoms in Seniors
Signs of the flu include fever, chills, muscle aches, shortness of breath, fatigue, a sore throat, a persistent cough, gastrointestinal distress, and a runny nose. Some of these symptoms overlap with conditions like the common cold. To rule out any other diagnoses, consult a medical professional.
How Long Does the Flu Last in the Elderly?
For the average person, flu symptoms tend to last from five to seven days. Among high-risk seniors, the flu may last up to two weeks, with some symptoms persisting for three or more weeks. Subsequent complications may persist for months, resulting in hospitalization. This is just one reason why it’s so important to prevent the flu in older adults.
Cold vs. Flu
Both conditions are considered contagious respiratory illnesses. However, their causes differ. The flu occurs when a person contracts an influenza virus, while the common cold is associated with multiple different viruses, such as parainfluenza, coronavirus, or rhinovirus. Generally, the flu is considered more severe, has a faster onset, and carries a more substantial risk of health complications.
Aging weakens the immune system, making the elderly more vulnerable to seasonal influenza and its associated complications. In this population, life-threatening effects of the flu may include pneumonia, myocarditis, encephalitis, sepsis, and organ failure.2
According to the National Institute on Aging, the following people are considered at high risk for serious illness after contracting the flu:
- Adults over the age of 65.
- Those with a history of heart disease or stroke.
- Seniors living in nursing homes.
- Older adults with chronic conditions like asthma, kidney disease, and diabetes.
Fortunately, with the proper preparation, it is possible to prevent the flu altogether.
Preventing the Flu in Older Adults
The flu spreads through person-to-person contact, airborne droplets, and contaminated surfaces. Standing within six feet of a sick person may be enough to infect your loved one. People with this illness are most contagious within the first three or four days after symptoms develop. To prevent the flu in older adults, consider the following measures.
Practicing Good Hygiene
Encourage your loved one to wash or sanitize their hands regularly, avoid touching their face, and steer clear of people who have flu symptoms. Disinfecting high-touch surfaces is another great way to prevent the flu from spreading, especially if you have multiple people in your household.
Flu Shot for Seniors
The CDC offers clear guidelines for flu prevention in adults over the age of 65. The number one measure they recommend is a higher-dose or adjuvanted flu vaccine for members of this population.3,4 Many insurance providers cover flu shots, making this a low-cost, highly effective way to keep your loved one safe and healthy.
Protecting Immunocompromised Older Adults
Older adults with underlying health conditions may experience life-threatening complications from the flu. Because their immune systems are so busy fighting off other illnesses, they tend to develop more serious symptoms. To strengthen their bodies, immunocompromised seniors should prioritize the following:
- Limiting contact with others.
- Avoiding crowded places.
- Getting enough sleep.
- Staying hydrated.
- Eating a nutrient-rich diet.
- Minimizing stress.
- Exercising to the best of their ability.
- Treating existing health problems.
- Abstaining from alcohol and tobacco.
If your loved one has developed the flu, the first thing you should do is consult a healthcare provider. A doctor can provide an accurate diagnosis and any necessary medication. Many older adults benefit from timely administration of antivirals, which can reduce the risk of complications and hasten healing. From there, rest and hydration are key. Be sure that the sick person is drinking plenty of water and maintaining a regular sleep schedule.
Contact your loved one’s doctor right away if they begin experiencing shortness of breath, confusion, a persistent cough, or chest pain. If other chronic health problems get worse, seek immediate medical attention.
Keep Your Loved One Safe This Flu Season
Combating flu season doesn’t have to be complicated. If your loved one is struggling to care for themselves, Legacy Homecare LA can help. Our Care Companions will assist your family member in disinfecting surfaces, maintaining their personal hygiene, and traveling to and from medical appointments.
For more information about customizable, at-home support from our caregiving team, contact Legacy Homecare LA.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, November 22). Past Seasons Estimated Influenza Disease Burden. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/past-seasons.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, October 3). Flu Symptoms & Complications. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/symptoms.htm
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, May 30). Fluzone High-Dose Seasonal Influenza Vaccine. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/qa_fluzone.htm
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, August 25). Adjuvanted Flu Vaccine. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/adjuvant.htm