One of the most important things you can do as you care for Mom this winter is ensure that she receives her annual flu shot early in the season. Even if she walks two miles every day and eats eight servings of veggies and fruits, her aging immune system makes her more susceptible to catching the flu. If you need an extra dose of encouragement, here are three good reasons to get her to the pharmacy or doctor’s office.
1. Seniors are a high-risk population for influenza and complications
In addition to their increased susceptibility for catching the flu, older adults are far more likely to develop life-threatening complications, like pneumonia, than any other age group.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in recent years, up to 90 percent of the flu-related deaths have occurred in Americans age 65 and over. Seniors account for nearly 70 percent of all hospitalizations for flu-related complications. Seniors with chronic conditions, like COPD, diabetes, and heart disease, are especially vulnerable to complications from the flu, and 86 percent of U.S. adults over age 65 have at least one chronic condition.
If you do care for Mom during a bout with the flu, be sure she rests and drinks a large amount of nutritious fluids to build strength. Ask her doctor about influenza antiviral drugs that may shorten her illness, and if she’s not had a pneumococcal vaccine, explore this option, too.
2. The 2014-2015 flu season was the worst in recent history for older adults
Influenza activity started early in 2014 and lasted long into 2015, according to the CDC. It also took a severe toll on the elderly. The CDC recorded more hospitalizations for Americans over 65 than in any year since 2005.
Last season's flu shot was ineffective at preventing the flu, mostly due to its inability to match the viruses in circulation, which change from year-to-year. The CDC estimates that people who received last year’s vaccination were just 19 percent less likely to seek medical attention for the flu as compared to typical years in which the shot’s effectiveness ranges from 50 to 60 percent. However, that doesn’t mean that you or your loved one should skip the shot this year—every step toward prevention helps!
3. There’s a shot specifically formulated for seniors
U.S. health officials have updated the 2015-2016 vaccine to better match this year’s circulating viruses and offer citizens better protection. Some of the best news for elderly Americans is the recent creation of a specially designed high-dose flu shot for seniors age 65 and older.
The Fluzone High-Dose contains four times the amount of antigen found in the regular flu shot, increasing the production of antibodies after the vaccination, which means a stronger immune response and greater protection from the flu virus. However, you should be aware that the higher dose may bring increased risk of side effects with it, including fever, headache, and muscle aches.
Best of all, Medicare Part B covers this high-dose flu shot with no copay.
Care for Mom by caring for yourself
A recent study by Clinical Infectious Diseases shows that adults who have contact with the elderly can greatly reduce flu risk in seniors by vaccinating themselves against the virus. When a caregiver gets a flu shot, they can play a huge role in lowering the rates of flu-related illness and complications among seniors.
The CDC recommends that seniors receive flu shots by October, if possible, so if Mom has not had her vaccination yet, it’s time to go!