How Seniors Can Prepare Themselves for the Cold and Flu Season

With the cold and flu season right around the corner, it’s important for seniors to take a proactive approach towards protecting themselves from these common infectious illnesses. Cold and flu infections can strike anyone, regardless of age. Because of their weakened immune system, however, seniors are particularly vulnerable to them.

Both cold and flu infections can bring a world of discomfort for seniors, but the latter is particularly concerning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 85% of all flu-related deaths in the United States involve seniors aged 65 and older. While cold infections are less severe, they can still cause serious discomfort or even complications like pneumonia. So, what can seniors do to better protect themselves from cold and flu infections?

Get a Flu Shot

While there’s no vaccine available for cold infections, there is are vaccines to protect against flu infections. Known simply as a flu jab or flu shot, it’s designed specifically to protect against infections of the influenza virus, which is the virus responsible for the flu. New versions of the flu vaccine are created about twice a year. By keeping up to date on their flu shots, seniors can reduce their risk of catching the flu.

On its official website, the CDC recommends seniors get an actual flu shot and not a nasal spray vaccine. The CDC notes that there are special flu vaccines available that are designed for seniors. This includes the high-dose flu vaccine as well as the adjuvanted flu vaccine.

Aim for 7 to 8 Hours of Sleep

It’s important for seniors to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep at night to minimize their risk of cold and flu infections. Seniors who get less sleep at night have a greater risk of cold and flu infections than their well-rested counterparts.

Insufficient sleep has been shown to weaken the immune system. It causes lower levels of infection-fighting compounds like antibodies. As a result, health experts recommend seniors, as well as most adults, get a minimum of seven to eight hours of sleep.

Eat More Fruits and Veggies

Including more fruits and veggies in their diet can lower the risk of cold and flu infections for seniors. Fruits and veggies contain plant-based antioxidants that promote a stronger, more effective immune system. The problem is that most adults, including seniors, don’t eat enough fruits and veggies.

According to one report, 90% of adults in the United States fall short of the recommended 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of veggies per day. It’s certainly easier and more convenient to pick up a meal from a local fast food chain, but these are largely “empty calories” that provide minimal nutritional value.

Wash Hands Frequently

While the CDC says the single most important thing seniors can do to lower their risk of catching the flu is getting vaccinated, the second-most important thing is handwashing. Germs, including the viruses responsible for cold and flu infections, are often spread through direct contact. When a senior touches a contaminated surface, he or she may unknowingly pick up some of these germs. Handwashing minimizes the risk of infections by eliminating germs.

For the highest level of protection against cold and flu infections, seniors should follow these five steps when washing their hands:

  1. Run hands under lukewarm water
  2. Apply and lather hands in soap
  3. Scrub hands for a minimum of 20 seconds
  4. Rinse hands under the clean water
  5. Dry hands either with a towel or air

Maintain a Clean and Sanitized Environment

Of course, seniors should maintain a clean and sanitized environment to lower their risk of cold and flu infections. Regardless of where a senior lives, he or she should have a clean and sanitized living environment. When surfaces like counters, doorknobs and tables go uncleaned, they’ll accumulate germs.

Keep Away From Sick People

While this probably sounds like common sense, it’s worth noting that seniors should keep away from people who are already sick with an infectious illness. Like all infectious illnesses, cold and flu viruses need a vector to spread. Unless a senior is exposed to someone who’s already infected with the cold or flu virus — or an environment in which an infected person has used — he or she won’t catch it.

Seniors don’t have to necessarily isolate themselves during the cold and flu season. Rather, they should be conscious of their surrounding environment while taking steps to minimize contact with people who are already infected with one of these otherwise common illnesses.

Perform Regular Exercise

Regular exercise can lower the risk of cold and flu infections in seniors by promoting a stronger immune system. According to a study cited by WebMD, people who exercise regularly are roughly one-third less likely to catch a cold than their inactive counterparts. Along with the other tips listed here, regular exercise can help protect seniors from cold and flu infections.

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