Seniors: Be on Guard This Cold and Flu Season

With the added risk of swine flu, or the H1N1 virus, it is more important than ever to take precautions this flu and cold season.

The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that everyone be vaccinated for the seasonal flu virus as well as H1N1.

The Center for Disease Control reports that each year more than 200,000 people across North America will be hospitalized due to seasonal flu and its complications such as pneumonia—and 36,000 of them will die. Seniors make up the majority of these numbers.

It is critical that seniors—and the people who care for them—get vaccinated. Annual shots are necessary, as flu strains change each year. (The CDC has lowered the recommended senior age for seasonal flu shots from 65 and over, to 50 and over.)

The National Institute on Aging reports that flu shots reduce hospitalization by about 70 percent and death by about 85 percent among seniors who do not live in nursing homes.

Other recommendations for staying healthy and controlling the transfer of germs this cold and flu season include:

  • When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth or nose with a tissue, and throw the tissue away immediately. Also wash your hands right away.
  • When you do not have a tissue, turn your head away from people and cough into the air or into your sleeve.
  • Wash your hands frequently, as you can pick up germs from door knobs, telephones and other items you touch. Wash with warm soapy water for at least 15 seconds and dry your hands thoroughly.
  • When a sink is not handy, clean your hands with an alcohol-based disinfectant gel or hand wipes.
  • When you are sick, avoid close contact with others, and whenever possible stay home. When ill, family caregivers should make arrangements for a replacement caregiver. Also, try to avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth, as you may have touched objects contaminated with germs.

You will also lower your cold and flu risk by taking good care of yourself. Good health practices can bolster your immunity to cold and flu viruses. For instance:

  • Eat a nutritious, balanced diet, eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish and avoid red meat.
  • Drink plenty of fluids—eight 8-ounce glasses of fluids are recommended for adults.
  • Get enough sleep so you feel rested. Lack of adequate sleep lowers immunity.
  • Regular moderate exercise helps increase the body’s natural virus-killing cells.
  • Relax, reduce stress and maintain a positive outlook. Caregivers, for instance, can find relief from the stress of their responsibilities by arranging respite care.
  • Cut alcohol consumption and avoid smoking.

For updates and information on H1N1, visit

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