Most people who develop the flu recover from the aches, cough and fever quickly. But older adults are more vulnerable to severe and sometimes deadly complications.
September is the time of year to help your Michigan senior loved ones prepare to fight the flu.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people over the age of 65 account for 60 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations and 90 percent of flu-related deaths each year.
It is crucial that you act early to protect your loved ones from this serious illness.
Here’s what you need to know to prevent your aging loved one from getting bitten by the flu bug this year:
- Get them vaccinated. According to the CDC, the flu shot is the best way to prevent high-risk populations from coming down with the virus. Getting the shot in October ensures they are protected through the peak season in January and February and on in to spring.
Though there is a slight chance that your vaccinated senior could contract the virus even if they receive their flu shot, the vaccine will reduce the severity of illness and the risk of complications.
Adults over the age of 65 may be given a standard flu shot or a higher-dose vaccine designed for those with compromised immunity. Talk with your loved one’s physician to determine which vaccine is best shot for them.
Vaccines can be given at physician’s offices, clinics, pharmacies and at your local health department. Visit the Michigan Flu Vaccine Finder to locate a clinic near you. The annual flu shot is covered by Medicare Part B, with no co-pay.
- Roll up your sleeve, too. The flu is highly contagious, so it is important that everyone who spends any time with your loved one is also vaccinated to prevent transmitting the disease. The CDC recommends the annual flu shot or nasal vaccine for everyone over six months of age.
- Limit your loved one’s contact with people who may have the flu. Don’t permit visits with anyone who has symptoms of illness. Remind visitors that the senior in your care cannot risk becoming sick.
- Encourage healthy hygiene. Remind your senior loved one to wash their hands thoroughly throughout the day and to avoid touching their face, eyes, and nose. This will prevent the spread of infectious germs.
- Take precautions when in public. Wipe down shopping cart handles with anti-bacterial wipes. Carry hand sanitizer and help elderly adults remember to use it frequently to kill germs they might pick up.
- Bolster immunity. Make sure your aging parents eat a balanced diet, exercise and maintain strong social ties. All of these things help strengthen their immune system.
If your senior loved one develops flu symptoms, call his or her physician. If they have the flu, the doctor can prescribe an anti-viral influenza treatment that can help them combat the virus more quickly and avoid debilitating complications.
For more information about flu prevention, visit the US Department of Health and Human Services website.
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Most adults know the value of receiving an annual flu shot. For seniors, however, an interesting study conducted by University of Lincoln and The University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom revealed what might be one more reason to get your vaccine. They found that people who received an influenza shot early in the fall were 24% less likely to experience a stroke during that year’s flu season.
Investigating the Potential Link between Flu Shots and Reduced Risk of Stroke
Here is a quick overview of the research:
- The records of over 47,000 people who had a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) were reviewed between 2001 and 2009.
- Researchers looked at those who had a flu vaccine, as well as those who received a pneumonia vaccine.
- Actual cases of stroke were compared against ‘control’ patients so research could be adjusted for other factors that might explain the differences in risk.
- Their research showed the flu vaccination was associated with a 24% reduction in risk of stroke.
- Those patients who had their vaccine early in flu season had the strongest incidence of reduced rate of stroke.
- The flu vaccine showed no statistically significant reduction in risk for a TIA.
- Receiving the pneumococcal vaccination did not appear to reduce the risk for a stroke or a TIA.
In 2010, this same research group also found a link between flu vaccines and decreased risk for heart attacks. Their previous trial showed people who received an early flu vaccination (between September and mid-November) had a 21% greater reduction in the rate of heart attacks compared with receiving flu shot late in the season where there was only a 12% reduction.
To read more about these trials and other flu shot research, visit Science Daily online.
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If you’ve watched the evening news anytime in the past few months, you know that the flu virus made its way across Michigan early this year. Some areas of the state have been especially hard hit. As is always the case, children, seniors and those living with chronic health conditions and weakened immune systems are at increased risk for contracting the virus. Now that the busy holiday season is upon us, we thought it was important to take a few minutes to remind Michigan’s family caregivers how they can best avoid getting bitten by the bug this year.
6 Ways to Avoid the Flu over the Holidays
Most of us spend more time interacting with others during the holidays than almost any other time of year. From holiday shopping to office parties, it isn’t easy to avoid coming in to contact with people who may have the flu. But there are a few things you can do to keep from getting it.
- Get your flu shot. The vaccine is the best way to shoo the flu. If you haven’t had yours for the year, make it a priority.
- Care for the caregiver. During the holidays, already busy caregivers feel even more overwhelmed. A lack of sleep and poor diet are often the result. Both lead to a rundown immune system that makes you more susceptible to the virus. Try to increase the amount of foods you eat that are rich in vitamins A, E, and C, and to take at least a 20 to 30 minute walk each day.
- No hugs or handshakes in public. While avoiding friendly contact can be difficult during the holidays, it can help prevent you from getting the flu. The virus is highly contagious and easily transmitted. Getting a hug or a handshake from a friend or colleague who may not be aware they have the flu can expose you to it.
- Soap and warm water. Washing your hands with warm, soapy water can help kill any viruses you may have been exposed to at work or when you are out in public. Health experts say you should wash your hands long enough to be able to sing a chorus of Yankee Doodle Dandy. Keep hand sanitizers with you for the times you won’t have access to soap and water.
- Stay home when you are ill. Calling in sick to work is something most people hesitate to do. But it is the fastest way for you to rest and recover, and the best way to prevent the virus from spreading.
- Antiviral medications help. If you are one of the unlucky ones who come down with the flu, call your doctor for an appointment as soon as you notice the first symptom. Experts from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) say prescription antiviral medications can keep the flu from progressing and shorten the length of time you are sick.
To help consumers learn more about this year’s influenza virus and provide more prevention tips, The Department of Health and Human Services has developed flu.gov. Topics range from flu shot questions to risk factors.
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My 82-year old father is in the middle stage of Alzheimer’s disease. Lately, he has become a little more difficult to manage. He is especially difficult to handle when I have to take him to the doctor. Fortunately, he goes to a geriatrician who is very understanding of and knowledgeable about Alzheimer’s disease.
In past years I have always taken my dad with me to the pharmacy flu shot clinic for his yearly vaccine. I’m on the fence this year about whether he should have a flu shot or not. He goes to an adult day center a few days a week and they are offering it there, but I’m just not sure he really needs it. He had a flu shot at the end of flu season last year, and I’m trying to decide if it’s worth the struggle it will likely be to get him to cooperate this year.
Gretchen in Grand Haven, Michigan
I’m sure you know that these behaviors are not uncommon for those living with Alzheimer’s disease. Family caregivers often feel understandably embarrassed when they are trying to cope with a senior loved one’s behavior in public. Having a primary care physician who specializes in gerontology like your fathers can really help.
As far as flu shots, I recommend you talk with your father’s physician for the final word but I think she or he will likely advise you that your father should receive the vaccine. Even though he had it later in last year’s flu season, he will need a new vaccine to protect him from this year’s strains of the flu. He is probably at greater risk for complications of flu and will likely be at higher risk for contracting the virus if he goes to an adult day center a few days a week. It might be beneficial to have him get the flu shot at his geriatrician’s office instead of the adult day center if you think they are better equipped to handle his behaviors.
Finally, you might be interested in this story we shared with readers during last year’s flu season. Flu Shot Questions from Alzheimer’s Caregivers in Michigan addressed some of the questions we commonly receive about the flu from family members who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.
I hope this information helps, Gretchen!