Flu outbreak prompts reminder from senior care experts

Online Staff Report

This flu season is shaping up to be one of the worst in decades — with the Centers for Disease Control already reporting widespread outbreaks in many states.

In Illinois, the Illinois Department of Public Health has reported that 368 people have been admitted to hospital intensive care units with the flu this season, and 27 have died. Most hospitalizations and deaths were among those in their 50s and older. No children have died in the state, although 20 children have died nationwide from the flu this season. Hospitals have been asked to enforce restrictions on visitors, including barring visitors younger than 18 and limiting visitors to two per patient at any one time.

While anyone can get the flu, seniors are especially susceptible to the virus and are at greater risk for serious flu-related complications that can lead to hospitalization and even death. Ninety percent of flu-related deaths and more than half of flu-related hospitalizations occur in people age 65 and older.

The flu can be very dangerous for seniors, so we are concerned about this recent outbreak,” said Jeff Huber, president of Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care franchise network. “We encourage seniors and their families to take extra precautions to protect themselves from the virus.”

To fight the flu, senior care experts recommend the following:

Get a flu shot — Experts strongly encourage all seniors and those in frequent contact with seniors to get vaccinated, if they haven’t already done so. Medicare covers one vaccine per flu season.

Practice good hand washing — Wash hands with soap frequently, especially after coughing or sneezing. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Cover coughs and sneezes — Droplets from a sneeze or a cough can travel up to 6 feet. Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and dispose of the tissue immediately. If a tissue is not available, cough or sneeze into the elbow, not the hands.

Stay in to stay well — If there’s an outbreak in the area, avoid trips to crowded shopping centers or community events.

Avoid contact — Those with flu-like symptoms, especially school-aged children, should avoid contact with senior loved ones. Enlist the help of friends, neighbors or professional Home Instead CAREGivers to take over caregiving responsibilities, if necessary.

Rest well, eat well — Get plenty of sleep, drink plenty of fluids and eat healthy foods. Experts also recommend a diet rich in vitamins C and D and plenty of exercise.

If senior loved ones begin to show symptoms of the flu, contact their health care provider immediately. Antiviral medications (like Tamiflu) are available to help make symptoms less severe.

For more about senior and caregiver well-being, visit www.caregiverstress.com.

Posted Jan. 17, 2013

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