According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this year’s flu season is worse than usual, particularly for seniors. Seniors age 65 and older are at a greater risk for getting the flu and for suffering complications as a result. Those over the age of 84 have the highest risk of dying due to flu complications. An older person’s immune system is not as strong, making him or her more susceptible to illness. Flu in the elderly can lead to pneumonia, dehydration, worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, emphysema and heart disease, and can even lead to death. Symptoms of the flu may include headache, fever, body aches, fatigue, cough, congestion and sore throat. Flu symptoms often resemble cold symptoms, but one prominent characteristic of the flu is the symptoms come on quickly with greater intensity. If you think you may have the flu, it is important to contact your doctor right away. Your doctor may be able to prescribe an antiviral medication to lessen the severity of the flu. Other treatments include rest, drinking plenty of liquids, and possibly over the counter medications. Be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist first, though, to make sure the over the counter meds won’t interfere with your prescription drugs or complicate any existing medical conditions. Immediate medical attention is needed if any of the following are experienced:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Purple or blue discoloration of the lips
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Flu-like symptoms that improve, but then return with fever and worse cough
Prevention is key. Annual flu shots drastically reduce the risks of the flu. Wash your hands regularly. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth without washing your hands first. Carry hand sanitizer to use when soap and water aren’t available. Take care of your body and boost your immune system by eating a balanced diet, exercising and getting seven to nine hours of sleep at night. Protect yourself when caring for someone who has the flu by designating a sick room and bathroom for them and keeping them from the common areas of the house.