It’s flu season again, and seniors are at far greater risk of experiencing problems with the flu than younger adults. In older adults, the flu is more likely to lead to complications that can lead to a hospital stay or become even more serious.
What Is the Flu?
The flu, short for influenza, is a respiratory illness that can have a wide range of effects from mild to deadly. Influenza can affect just about any mammal and bird on the planet and spreads very easily. There are three strains of influenza: A, B, and C.
Influenza A is one of the most deadly strains and is behind all of the most deadly flu epidemics, so it is targeted by the flu vaccine. Along with Influenza B, they comprise most of the world’s flu infections every year. Influenza C is a milder form of infection and therefore not targeted by vaccines.
It can be fatal because of the body’s efforts to fight off the infection. Bacterial infections such as strep throat or a staph infection can also infect the lungs due to the body’s overtaxed immune system.
Flu symptoms in seniors are very similar to those in other age groups, and include:
- Congestion and runny or stuffed sinuses
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Muscle and body aches
- Hacking and sore throat
- Stomach problems that can cause diarrhea and vomiting
Many of these symptoms are similar to those of the much-less dangerous common cold. If more severe symptoms such as persistent headaches or vomiting continue for two or three days, seek treatment immediately.
Complications from the Flu
With the right treatment for the flu, including antibiotics, it should only last about two weeks. However, seniors are more likely to experience complications if they already have an ongoing condition such as:
- Heart complications
- Kidney problems
- Asthma and chronic lung disease
- Liver issues
- Any illness that requires a medication or treatment (such as chemotherapy) that weakens the immune system
This is why it’s especially important to enjoy healthy senior living to help prevent the flu.
How to Prevent the Flu
The flu vaccine remains the most effective way to prevent the flu for all. Vaccination can reduce the risk of the flu by 40 to 60%, and it is known to mitigate the consequences of getting the flu. Even seniors with a weakened immune system can benefit from the flu vaccine as it can mitigate the chances of the illness resulting in hospitalization or more serious consequences.
Besides the flu vaccine, there are several precautions seniors should take during flu season to avoid getting sick:
- Avoiding people who have the flu or even a cold
- Washing hands consistently after being in public and before eating
- Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that you frequently touch
- Limit how often you touch your eyes, mouth, or nose
- Resting when you first feel cold symptoms coming on
- Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night
- Maintain a healthy diet that supports your immune system
There are even new studies that show that mental exercises can boost your immune system. Studies have focused on games like bridge which stimulate areas of the brain that also boost your immune system. You can learn more about mental exercises and how improving your memory improves your health.
If you’re considering senior living options, make sure you take a healthy lifestyle into consideration. Take some time to find a residence near you that takes exercise, nutrition, and well-being seriously.
No one likes the flu, but as a senior you’re especially at risk for complications and extreme symptoms. Get the vaccine and take steps to avoid getting the flu this year.