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Flu Season Can Hit Seniors Hard

Senior woman meeting with her doctor.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the flu is a contagious respiratory disease that can be prevented by a flu vaccination. Make an appointment with your doctor’s office to discuss whether or not you should have a flu shot.

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January 9, 2012

While the flu can get anyone down, older adults may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of these viruses, which could turn deadly fast. If you’re a senior or a caregiver to an older loved one, be sure you’re doing all you can to protect against the flu.

Q. As a 75-year-old widower with a lot of health problems, I’m concerned about getting the flu, since I live alone and have no help. What can you recommend?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the flu is a contagious respiratory disease that can be prevented by a flu vaccination. Make an appointment with your doctor’s office to discuss whether or not you should have a flu shot.

You’re right to be concerned. Seniors are among the groups hit hardest by the flu. In 2003, the flu killed 36,000 Americans and more than 32,000 were 65 or older — despite the highest immunization rate ever.

That year, more than 83 million were immunized, but still only six of every 10 senior citizens received the life-saving shots, according to testimony in 2004 before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging. Combined, flu and pneumonia (the most common complication of the flu) are the fifth leading cause of death among Americans age 65 and older.

According to the CDC, October or November is the best time to get vaccinated, but getting vaccinated in December or even later can still be beneficial since most influenza activity occurs in January or later in most years. Though it varies, flu season can last as late as May.

While flu shots are recommended for everyone over 50, there are certain people who should not receive these shots, according to the CDC. Those who should not be vaccinated include:

  • People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.
  • People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past.
  • People who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of getting an influenza vaccine previously.
  • People who have a moderate or severe illness with a fever should wait to get vaccinated until their symptoms lessen.

If you cannot get a flu shot, talk with your health-care provider about other precautions that you can take to prevent the flu.

Remember to wash your hands regularly and get plenty of rest. And if you need assistance around the home to keep your strength up during the winter cold and flu season, consider contacting the local Home Instead Senior Care® office.

The organization can help seniors like you by providing support for a variety of non-medical needs such as companionship, meal preparation, light housekeeping, medication reminders, transportation, errands and shopping.

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