Family caregivers face new challenges every day. One many don’t often think about is flu prevention. For adult children who are caregivers for an aging parent, learning how to prevent being bitten by the bug is vital. Since younger, healthier adults may be able to fight off the virus easily, they may not even realize they have been exposed. This makes it easy for you to unknowingly pass the flu on to your senior loved one.
The Stats on Seniors and Flu
For older adults, influenza can be especially dangerous. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tell us:
- Up to 85% of seasonal flu-related deaths are people 65 years and older
- As many as 70% of all flu-related hospitalizations are people in this same age group
These are startling statistics for seniors and their family caregivers. But there are steps you can take to try to keep your aging parent healthy this winter.
5 Steps Caregivers Can Take to Shoo the Flu
- Get Your Flu Shot: Even if you are young and healthy, experts advise those who are caring for older adults or frequently around other vulnerable populations to get the vaccine. Most health care professionals say early October is best time to be vaccinated. It takes about two weeks for protection from the shot to kick in, and flu season usually begins in late October or early November.
- Be Cautious in Public Places: Because the virus can live on things for as long as two hours, it’s important to exercise caution when you are out in public. This is especially true if your aging loved one is with you. Avoid large groups whenever possible. And try not to use public restrooms and drinking fountains if you can help it.
- Frequent Hand Washing: Most of us don’t realize how many times each day we touch our mouth or nose. If you’ve been exposed to the virus and have it on your hands when you touch your face, you increase the likelihood of contracting the flu and passing it on to your senior family member. Use good hand washing practices to wash your hands frequently.
- Rest and Eat Right: Keep your immune system strong by eating a healthy diet and getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. When your immune system is strong, you are better able to fight off the virus and avoid getting sick.
- Manage Stress: For busy family caregivers, stress is often a part of everyday life. But stress can have a negative effect on your health. It may leave you weary and tired. Both can lead to a weakened immune system. Exercise, aromatherapy and meditation are a few of the best ways to beat stress. If you just aren’t able to manage your caregiving anxiety, talk with your physician. They will likely have advice to help. Also consider taking advantage of respite care at a senior living community.
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