Did you know that influenza, or flu, has resulted in 9 million to 41 million illnesses in the U.S. from 2010 to 2020? The CDC also estimated it to have caused 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations within that time. Even more concerning is that, in more severe cases, it has led to fatalities. People over 65 are especially at risk of flu and its serious complications. One reason is that aging appears to compromise the immune system. That’s why assisted living and memory care communities strictly implement flu prevention measures. These help lower their residents’ (especially at-risk seniors) odds of contracting such diseases. You can follow the same risk-reduction steps as a senior yourself or if you care for an older loved one at home. Read on for some cold prevention strategies to keep at-risk seniors safe during cold and flu season.
Getting the Flu Vaccine
Assisted living and memory care communities often provide flu vaccines. They not only give these to residents but also every staff member. Flu vaccines are usually 40% to 60% effective in reducing one’s risk of catching the disease. They may also help reduce the risk of cardiac events in people with heart disease. Hospitalization in those with chronic lung disease and diabetes is also less likely. Getting vaccinated also helps lower the odds of experiencing flu-related complications. For example, studies have shown it can help reduce the likelihood of requiring ICU care. Flu vaccines can also help protect against the symptoms of other respiratory illnesses. These include the common cold, which has symptoms similar to influenza. So, if you or an elderly loved one hasn’t had a flu shot, consider getting one ASAP. Getting one yearly and as early as September or October is also wise.
Cold and flu viruses often spread via airborne droplets coughed or sneezed by a sick person into the air. Another person who inhales the infected particles can then get ill. To reduce transmission risks, assisted living communities make masks available for use. Staff members, residents, and guests can request this personal protective equipment (PPE). Masks can help curb the spread of cold and flu viruses by preventing them from going airborne. So, if a sick person coughs or sneezes, their mask acts like a barrier. At the same time, masks can help people who aren’t sick from inhaling airborne pathogens. Therefore, wearing one can help reduce your or your elderly loved one’s risks of exposure.
Proper Sanitation and Hygiene
Cold and flu viruses can also spread through skin contact. For example, you may get exposed if you touch a surface, such as a doorknob, where infected droplets landed. You may then inhale the viruses if you put your hands on or near your face. Assisted living communities implement robust sanitation and safety practices to lower those risks. For example, they regularly clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces. These strategies help ensure their residents always have clean living spaces. Assisted living communities also educate residents and help them with personal hygiene. This includes teaching and assisting them with proper handwashing and bathing.
You can implement the same strategies at home by washing your hands often, especially:
- Before, during, and after food preparation and meals
- Before and after caring for an ill person
- Before and after wound treatment
- After toilet use
- After you cough, sneeze, or blow your nose
Also, when washing your hands, scrub them with soap for at least 20 seconds. Rinse your hands well and use a clean towel to dry them. If you can’t wash your hands, use a sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
Social distancing can help reduce the risks of contracting a cold or flu. This safety practice involves keeping at least six feet between yourself and others. It works even better if you also wear a mask. If you experience symptoms, consider not traveling or going outside. Instead, try some senior-friendly indoor exercises that are safe even for those with a cold or flu. Pilates and yoga are two perfect examples.
Speaking of exercise, were you aware it can help boost your immune system? The stronger your immune system is, the better it can fight off infections like the flu and colds. This makes it even more helpful for senior health, as immunity weakens as one age. So, it’s no wonder assisted living communities give residents many ways to stay active. They offer various activities, including exercise programs, on-site and off-site.
The amount and type of nutrients you eat can affect your immune health. This means that what you eat can protect against or make you more prone to illnesses. For example, a high intake of salt, saturated fat, and added sugar can reduce immune function. On the other hand, foods low in salt, saturated fat, and sugar but rich in vitamins and minerals can boost it. That’s also why assisted living communities focus on providing creative, nutritional menus. They even partner with certified dietitians. Together, they ensure all residents get the nutrition they need to stay healthy.
Adequate hydration helps with fluid transportation throughout the body. This is crucial since these fluids carry immune cells, which help the body fight off germs. This is one of the many reasons to ensure you drink plenty of plain water. You can also make plain water tastier and healthier with fresh fruit juice. Some excellent examples are freshly squeezed lime, lemon, or orange juice. These fruits (and their juices) are rich in vitamin C and folate, which benefit the immune system.
Staying Safe in Assisted Living Communities
Vaccination, proper hygiene, and sanitation can help protect seniors from colds and flu. So do wearing masks, exercising regularly, eating healthily, and staying hydrated. That’s why assisted living communities implement those strategies. Following the same tactics can help you or your elderly loved one stay safe during the cold and flu season. And, if you’re considering assisted living, rest assured your safety is their priority. At Inspired Living, we do our best to keep our residents happy, healthy, and safe. Contact us now to learn more about our living options!