Caregiving Tips for Cold and Flu Season

Families & CaregiversLifestyle

As summer winds down, the chances of catching a cold or the flu increase dramatically. The risk is especially dangerous for older adults because the immune system weakens with age and isn’t as able to fight off infections as well as it once did. That means a cold or the flu can progress to a serious disease like pneumonia. For help preventing the flu, here are some cold and flu season tips.

Cold and Flu Prevention

Get a flu shot: The flu vaccine can help reduce the risk of getting the flu. If you or your loved one happen to contract the virus, it can also lessen the illness’s severity and protect against complications. While the best time to get a flu shot is October through November, it’s still useful to get the shot even if it’s later in the flu season.

Hand washing: Frequent hand-washing with regular soap is the most effective way to get rid of cold and flu germs. Be sure everyone washes their hands for at least 20 seconds (long enough to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice) and cleans under their nails, back of hands, between fingers, and wrists.

Exercise regularly: According to Harvard University, moderate exercise can help boost the immune system. Even if you or your loved one don’t have a lot of time to exercise, any amount of regular exercise will help.

Hands off: Avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth, as they are common ways for cold and flu germs to enter the body.

Keep clean: Try to keep living areas as germ-free as possible by using disinfectant when cleaning the bathroom and kitchen. Also, pay special attention to doorknobs and light switches. Disinfect cleaning sponges and rags should be changed frequently, soaked in bleach, microwaved for one minute, or run through the dishwasher. Also consider using paper towels for cleaning, as they can be thrown after use.

Phone cleanliness: Many people forget how dirty and germ-filled their mobile device is. Clean it regularly with sanitizing wipes or rubbing alcohol but be careful not to wet the electronics.

Staying safe: It might sound obvious, but keep your distance from people who are sick. If you become sick, try to limit your physical contact with your loved one. Wash your hands regularly and cover your mouth and nose if you cough or sneeze.

Avoid crowds and unnecessary travel: Avoid being in large groups of people, especially in poorly ventilated spaces, as this increases the chance of coming into contact with someone who has been infected.

Drink up: Drinking plenty of liquids, especially plain water or hot tea, helps keep nasal passages moist so they can trap germs before they can spread into your body.

Eat healthy: Studies have shown that a little extra Vitamin C can reduce the risk of getting sick. And not getting enough protein can also lower the immune response, so try to prepare meals with fish, eggs, yogurt and other forms of protein.

Caregiving During Cold and Flu Season

The best thing you can do during cold and flu season is to not get sick at all. But if you or your loved do, here are some cold and flu season tips for dealing with the symptoms.

Antiviral medication: At the first sign of symptoms, visit your loved one’s doctor as they can prescribe antiviral drugs to make the flu milder and prevent serious complications. For older adults, it could mean the difference between just having the flu or being hospitalized with severe pneumonia. Flu antiviral drugs typically work best if they’re started within two days of getting sick. But for seniors, because they’re at such a high risk for complications, starting them later can still be helpful.

Stop the spread: After flu symptoms appear, you could be contagious for up to five days. To protect others while you’re sick, wash your hands frequently, cough or sneeze into a tissue and immediately throw it away, and keep your distance.

Use a humidifier: Moist air helps soothe sore throats and hacking coughs.

Chicken soup for the flu: It’s not just an old wives’ tale; chicken soup really does work. The steam opens nasal passages, the broth soothes the throat, and it actually helps infection-fighting white blood cells do a better job.

Drink plenty of liquids: Extra fluids help thin out the mucus and make it easier to get it out of your system.

Sleep at an angle: Lying down at a 45-degree angle helps keep mucus from gathering in sinus cavities, which is unpleasant and could also lead to further infection. Sleeping at an angle also reduces inflammation.

Flu Symptoms

To help determine if you or a loved one has the flu, according to the CDC, some or all of these symptoms will be present:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills (Note: Not everyone who gets the flu will have a fever.)
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults

Be Aware of Complications

While caregiving, keep an eye out for these severe cold or flu symptoms and seek immediate medical attention if your loved one experiences:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Purple or blue discoloration of the lips
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

Cold and Flu Season Cleaning Tips

If someone in your household does get sick, these cold and flu season safety tips can help prevent the virus from spreading:

  • Throw the sick person’s tissues and other used disposable items in the trash.
  • Keep surfaces clean — bedside tables, bathroom surfaces, doorknobs and phones — by wiping items down with an approved household disinfectant. (You can find a list of CDC approved products here.)
  • Clean used linens, eating utensils and dishes thoroughly before reusing.
  • Wash linens, including bed sheets and towels, with laundry soap and tumble dry on a hot setting.

Your Health Matters

Senior living communities not only provide community and connection, but they have safety protocols in place to deal with everything from natural disasters to preventing the spread of viruses. If you’re ready to explore your senior living options, start researching thousands of communities with the Where You Live Matters community finder.

Harvard University
National Center for Biotechnology Information
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention