People over the age of 65 are at the greatest risk of serious complications or death from the flu virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In recent years, people 65 and older have accounted for more than 70 percent of flu-related deaths, as well as up to 70 percent of flu-related hospitalizations, the CDC reports. But age isn’t the only risk factor: Many older adults aren’t informed about how to prevent the flu or don’t realize how their Medicare benefits can help. Additionally, healthcare practitioners can potentially misdiagnose flu in older adults, as symptoms can be different from the typical flu.
You can help your aging parents or friends avoid the flu—and get the care they need if they do contract the virus—by taking the following steps.
1. Insist that they get a flu shot.
The CDC recommends everyone over the age of six months receive a flu vaccine each year. For best results, it’s ideal to get the shot by the end of October. It takes two weeks for the vaccine to become effective, but getting it earlier ensures that your parents will be prepared to start fighting off the virus by the time flu season is in full swing. (In the United States, seasonal flu activity often begins as early as October and November and can continue into May, though it usually peaks between December and February, according to the CDC.) In addition, many providers run out of the vaccine midway through the season, so it’s best to get it as early as you can. If your parents have Medicare, the flu shot should be covered under Part B.
2. Disinfect frequently.
The flu virus is easily transferred from hands or objects to countertops and tables, so it’s important to clean surfaces in the home more regularly during flu season. If your aging parent doesn’t keep the house as clean as he or she used to, take the initiative to stop by and wipe down frequently used surfaces, buy a container of disinfecting wipes and remind him or her to use it, or hire a cleaning service to help keep things spick and span.
3. Encourage them to avoid crowds and shaking hands during flu season.
Your parents may be the life of the party during the spring and summer, but being around a lot of people during the height of flu season can be risky. Make sure they understand the severity of the flu epidemic and encourage them to wait until warmer weather arrives and flu season has waned before going to crowded places. If they do shake a lot of hands, remind them to wash promptly and avoid touching their faces.
4. Request a flu test even if symptoms don’t appear typical.
Older adults may have the flu even if they don’t show the typical fever and sore throat. Their symptoms may include weakness, dizziness, loss of appetite and confusion. So if it’s flu season and your older parent has an unexplained illness, make sure the doctor tests for flu. Leaving the flu untreated and undiagnosed can make your parent higher at risk for other severe symptoms and complications, including sinusitis, worsening asthma, pneumonia and even death.
Take initiative to ensure that your aging parents and friends understand how to prevent the flu—and how to get the care they need if they do contract the virus.