Caregiver’s Guide to Protecting the Elderly from Influenza

This winter season, keep your elderly safe from influenza. Read the caregiver’s guide to protecting the elderly from influenza to learn all you need to know about this disease.

In past years, the WHO has made several attempts to vaccinate all adults over 65 years of age to boost their immune system and protect them against influenza. 

While we cannot safeguard all older adults from influenza, this guide will help caregivers understand and follow rules and actions to keep the illness away from them. 

Caregiver's Guide to Protecting the Elderly from Influenza

What is Influenza?

Influenza, commonly known as flu, affects the respiratory system in a human and thus makes it difficult for them to breathe comfortably.

Since it is caused by a virus, older adults and those with weak immune systems are more susceptible to it. It affects the nose, ears, and throat, but in severe conditions, it can move to the lungs area as well. 

The ”flu season” in America usually lasts the entire winter season, but it peaks somewhere around December – February. Thus, it is essential to take care of ourselves and our loved ones during this time.

Symptoms of influenza

Some of the common symptoms of influenza include – 

  • Sore throat
  • Body chills
  • Dry cough 
  • Breathing problem 
  • Muscle ache 
  • Body weakness
  • Tiredness/Exhaustion
  • Headache 
  • Throat ache 
  • High fever
  • Gastrointestinal complaints such as upset stomach and more 
Caregiver's Guide to Protecting the Elderly from Influenza

Is It a Cold or the Flu?

Influenza can be considered similar to the common cold, but it is different. Even though virus infections cause both, influenza can last for weeks compared to cough and cold, which disappear in 3-4 days. The common cold is caused by adenoviruses while influenza is caused by influenza viruses.

Also, influenza can lead to severe body chills and sweating, which is usually not the case with common colds. Common colds can lead to problems like sinus congestion and earache, but influenza can be life-threatening if not treated well since it can lead to pneumonia and bronchitis. 

This small chart will help you understand the difference between the two –  

SymptomColdFlu
FeverAdults-rare; children-sometimesHigh fever (can last 3 to 4 days)
Stuffy noseCommonSometimes
Runny noseCommon (Nasal discharge may have a yellow- or green-coloured tint.Not usual
Body aches and painsSometimesCommon
HeadacheSometimesCommon
Chills, sweatingNot commonCommon
Fatigue (tiredness), weaknessSometimes (usually mild)Common (can last up to 2-3 weeks)
Loss of appetiteSometimesCommon
NauseaUncommonCommon in children
CoughCommonCommon
SneezingCommonSometimes
Chest congestion, discomfortCommon (mild to moderate)Common
Sore throatCommonSometimes
DiarrheaNot commonSometimes
VomitingNot commonSometimes
ComplicationsSinus congestion, earacheBronchitis, pneumonia
Watery eyesCommonSometimes

Influenza and The Elderly

As mentioned already, influenza affects those over 65 years of age more since many have weaker immune systems than young people. Even though flu is a mild illness, it can still be life-threatening in the case of older adults since they have a weak immune system and most of them struggle with bad health. 

You must be cautious about your health if you have flu since it can lead to many other complications; if you are –

  • Above 65 years of age 
  • Have health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, chronic problems in the kidney, lungs, heart, etc. 
  • I have already suffered a stroke 
  • Are you already living in a nursing home or other health center
Caregiver's Guide to Protecting the Elderly from Influenza

The role of a caregiver in protecting the elderly against influenza

When it comes to taking care of the elderly, we are all caregivers in one way or another. However, those who have taken charge and responsibility to take care of their parents, relatives, or any other member of the society above 65 years of age shall follow specific tips to protect the seniors against influenza

Tips to protect the elderly against Influenza

Some of these tips are shared below – 

  1. Develop the habit of good hand washing hygiene. From soap to alcohol-based sanitizer, anything would work as long as you keep your hands clean throughout the day. 
  2. Avoid touching the eyes, mouth, and nose area. 
  3. Drink lots of water to keep the body healthy and hydrated. 
  4. Eat well, exercise, and maintain a positive attitude. 
  5. Get vaccinated (influenza vaccine) every year. 

Influenza Vaccine – Why It’s Essential for the Elderly?

Do you know that 70 to 85 percent of flu deaths have taken place in people over 65 years of age in recent years? Well, this should convince you enough that as a caregiver, you must take your senior person to get a shot of influenza vaccine once every year. The best time to get the influenza vaccine is sometime around October to December. 

Caregiver's Guide to Protecting the Elderly from Influenza

Canada Flu Shot or Nasal Spray?

The best way to choose between the two is to consult your doctor and then decide accordingly. However, vaccination is the best way for senior citizens since the effects of nasal spray do not last long and usually perform better on children and young adults. 

For those who don’t know, a nasal spray is directly put into the nose for protection against the flu during winters. Studies have proven that nasal spray works well with people from 2 to 49 years of age, especially in children.

Thus, it is recommended to follow the flu shot method for your aging parents and everyone over 50 since the nasal spray is made from weakened flu viruses and might not benefit those with a comparatively weaker immune system. 

However, it would help if you didn’t get vaccinated in case –

  • You have a severe history of allergic reactions to the previous flu vaccines.
  • You have taken influenza antiviral drugs within the last 48 hours.
  • You are taking heavy doses of other drugs (in this case, you should first consult your doctor and then go ahead with the process). 

In all the above cases, your problem can get worse. Thus, you must talk to a health practitioner to decide on the same. 

Caregiver's Guide to Protecting the Elderly from InfluenzaCaregiver's Guide to Protecting the Elderly from Influenza

Influenza Vaccination Week 

NIVW is a week of national awareness to focus on the importance of influenza vaccination in America and neighboring nations. The National Influenza Vaccination Week is celebrated from 5th to 11th December every year to vaccinate as many people as possible. With the rise of Covid-19, we also witnessed an increase in people showing up to get the vaccine during the NIVW. 

CDC data has contended that flu affects an average of 8 % of people during the winter season in the US. Below are some of the economic lows caused by influenza. 

CDC also mentions that more than 36,000 deaths in the US are associated with influenza. The number of hospitalizations goes up to 200,000 during the flu season, and there are no prizes for guessing. Most infected people are above 65 years of age. 

During the NIVW, you can protect your loved ones by encouraging and bringing them to the nearest medical center or camp to get vaccinated at a low cost. It takes about two weeks for the antibodies to develop after taking the shots and protect the elderly from the infection, and people are protected from the flu till the next season after getting the shot. Influenza viruses keep changing, so it is important to get vaccinated every year against the recently circulating strain of the virus for complete protection.

Caregiver's Guide to Protecting the Elderly from Influenza

Wrapping up

You have to be honest with your elders on this part. Just tell them the pros and cons of getting influenza vaccines. It might be difficult to convince many of them to get up and get a shot, yet it is essential for them, and this is where your role as a caregiver steps in. So get them vaccinated, and your job shall be done!

We hope this small guide was able to answer most of your questions related to Influenza, its symptoms and prevention. If you have further questions, please feel free to drop us a message and we will respond quickly. 

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