Take Action to Prevent the Flu

Autumn days are crisp and the leaves are ablaze in bright colors. Apples are ripe for picking and jack-o-lanterns add spark to steps and entryways.

Autumn is also time to prepare for the flu, which makes its yearly rounds in fall and winter. The arrival of the unwanted visitor is unpredictable, but usually peaks between December and February. Flu prevention is especially critical for older people, who are at much higher risk of complications. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 90 percent of flu-related deaths affect people above age 65.

Flu shots aren’t guaranteed to prevent the flu, but at a 70 to 90 percent effectiveness rate, they are the best way for elderly people to avoid the bug. However, it’s a good idea to take extra precautions to keep colds and flu away.

  • Your elderly family member should be vaccinated against the flu as soon as it is available. An immunization in October or November provides time the antibodies require to provide full protection.
  • Encourage your elderly loved one to maintain a healthy immune system all year round, but especially during flu season. Elderly people who get enough sleep and eat a healthy diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables are better able to fend off flu bugs. Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of fresh water also helps.
  • Take care of yourself and be sure you are immunized if you are caring for an elderly person.
  • If possible, it’s a good idea to avoid crowds during flu season because germs are often rampant and difficult to avoid. Similarly, avoid elevators and other enclosed areas.
  • Postpone visits for a few days if grandkids or other youngsters aren’t feeling well. Encourage kids to wash their hands thoroughly to prevent passing bugs along to susceptible older people.
  • Remind your elderly friends and family members about the importance of regular hand-washing. Although alcohol-based hand cleansers can be helpful, they aren’t a substitute for good old soap and water. Killing germs effectively requires a good lather and a 20-second scrub, says the CDC.
  • Your elderly loved one should see a health care provider as soon as possible if she develops flu symptoms such as cough, fever, body aches, headache, stuffy nose, sore throat or chills. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are sometimes – but not always – present.
  • Antiviral medications can be helpful, but only if they are taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Talk to your loved one’s health care provider; some physicians advise against use of antiviral meds for the elderly.
  • Most health care providers recommend that elderly people also be immunized for pneumonia. However, unlike flu vaccinations which must be repeated yearly, pneumonia vaccinations are generally a one-shot deal.