Older adults run a much greater risk of serious complications from the flu (influenza) than healthy, younger adults. Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 90 percent of flu-related deaths and 60 percent of hospitalizations happen to people age 65 and older. This is largely because immune systems weaken with age and many older adults have underlying conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, that increase vulnerability. To address this vulnerability, there is a flu vaccine (Fluzone High-Dose) created specifically to give adults over age 65 better protection from the virus.
Caregivers must also be vigilant against the flu. You don’t want to risk infecting anyone, especially an ailing loved one, and you also need to stay healthy in order to provide care. Keep in mind that the chronic stress that often accompanies caregiving responsibilities may lower your resistance and make you more susceptible to illness.
Good health habits, such as proper diet, frequent hand washing, and plenty of rest, are important steps to protect against the virus, but they only go so far. The best line of defense is an annual flu shot. The influenza vaccine is:
For most folks, the flu is much more potentially dangerous than the shot. Unless you are allergic to eggs, side effects are fairly uncommon and usually mild (soreness, headache, low-grade fever). And, no, the flu shot cannot give you the flu!
While the shot does not guarantee you won’t get the flu, it’s still the best way to prevent it. And even if you do come down with the flu after getting a shot, there’s a good chance it will be a milder case.
Annual flu shots are covered by Medicare and many private insurance plans. They are often available at a variety of places, from your doctor’s office to your local drug store.
Although it’s ideal to be vaccinated in the fall for the most protection, flu season peaks in February and lasts until May. Make sure that everyone in your and your senior’s household gets vaccinated as early in the flu season as possible (ideally in October or early November), and remember that it takes about two weeks to develop immunity.