Why Senior Caregivers Need to #FightFlu

Used tissues, a box of Kleenex, and a cup of tea

In North America, flu season is at our doorstep. This is the time for family members to ensure that older relatives are immunized. It's also essential that family members and caregivers also get the flu vaccine themselves. As a caregiver, every day is busy – you are always balancing your caregiving responsibilities with your work and person lives. No one has time to be sick for days or weeks with the flu. Just as important is preventing seniors from getting the flu. The results of this illness can be devastating for older individuals.

Flu Shots: Are You in the 52%?

The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) recently conducted a survey of American adults focused on the flu and attitudes toward vaccination. This research found that only 52% planned to get vaccinated against the flu this season. The other 48% cited several reasons why they weren't going to get immunized. Around half (51%) thought flu vaccines didn't work well, one third (34%) were concerned about side effects, and close to one quarter (22%) were worried the would get the flu from the vaccine. Even among people at greater risk for flu-related complications, 25% said they weren't planning to get a flu shot this year.

Scientific research has proven, however, that the annual flu vaccine is the best preventive tool available for preventing illness, hospitalization, and death from influenza. During the 2017-2018 flu season, immunizations prevented approximately 7 million flu illnesses, 109,000 hospitalizations, and 8,000 deaths. From a caregiver's perspective, it's important to recognize that during most flu seasons, the elderly account for the majority of flu-related deaths and over half of flu-related hospitalizations.

The Flu Is No Joke for Older People

According to the NFID, older adults face several risks if they contract the flu.

  • Age. People 65 and older often have weakened immune systems. As a result, their ability to fight off a flu infection may be compromised.

  • Heart Disease. Individuals with heart disease are six times more likely to have a heart attack within seven days of contracting the flu. People with heart disease and who have had a stroke are at higher risk for developing serious complications.

  • Lung Disease. When people with asthma, COPD, and other lung problems get the flu, they often experience increased lung inflammation which makes their symptoms worse.

  • Diabetes. An influenza infection can interfere with management of blood sugar levels. In addition, diabetes can interfere with the body's ability to fight the flu.

What Can You Do to #FightFlu?

There are four simple things that you can do as a caregiver to help prevent you and your loved ones from getting the flu:

  1. Get vaccinated yourself. Many workplaces offer vaccines, as do walk in clinics at neighborhood pharmacies.

  2. Make sure your older family members are vaccinated. For people 65 and older, high dose and adjuvanted flu vaccines are available. These build a higher immune response.

  3. Embrace healthy habits.  These include frequent hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home if you become sick.

  4. Follow your doctor's advice if you become sick. If you receive a prescription for flu antiviral drugs, be sure to take them as directed.

The flu isn't "just a bad cold" and this is especially true for older adults. Be responsible, get immunized, and #FightFlu for your family, your community, and for individuals who are unable to get immunized due to their age or health issues.

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