Every year our country sees varying levels of flu activity. Some year’s numbers are so high it’s described as an epidemic. Others we see far fewer cases reported. The Center for Disease Control recently reported that current flu activity is elevated for most of the country. The CDC measures ongoing flu activity by compiling data on reported symptoms, confirmed diagnoses and flu-related hospitalizations. Each of these numbers is on the rise compared to previous flu seasons.
The influenza vaccine is the most common way to protect yourself against the virus that causes the flu. It’s recommended that all individuals over 6 months of age obtain the vaccine as soon as it’s available. With reported cases continuing to rise, doctors and medical professionals are urging unvaccinated people to get the vaccine because it’s not too late. Regardless of whether or not you’ve received the flu vaccine, there are some extra precautions to help you stay healthy inside your home and out in public places this flu season.
Here are some tips for warding off germs this flu season:
- Wash your hands frequently, preferably with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Hand sanitizer works, but not as well because it doesn’t physically rinse the germs like soap and warm water.
- Avoid touching your face. Dirty hands that come in contact with the eyes, nose or mouth can quickly spread germs. Not only is the flu common this time of year, but pink eye, sinus infections and cold viruses are as well. These are all spread by hand-to-face contact.
- Avoid contact with sick people. Most times this is easier said than done. When it comes to work, school, daycare, and busy, public places, stay home if possible.
- Keep your environment clean. This includes anywhere you and/or your family spend time. Clean surfaces (kitchen, bath) as well as frequently touched items like cell phones and remote controls. Don’t forget other places like inside the car and your desk at work.
- Don’t neglect your own health. Get plenty of exercise, sleep and eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Spending too much time cleaning your surroundings will definitely pay off, but it’s important not to forget or underestimate how your own personal health protects against the cold and the flu.
Reports indicate that more seniors are living alone in their homes today than ever before. In a recent AARP study, it’s stated that at least 90% of seniors over 65 want to stay at home as long as possible. This statistic isn’t surprising. However, what is alarming are the findings that close to half of all seniors living alone suffer from social isolation.
While aging in place is liberating, and helps seniors maintain a sense of independence, it’s also lonely and even sometimes dangerous. Homes must be adapted and modified for safe, independent living, but a senior aging in place also needs a strong support system and regular companionship. If all of these elements are in place, living at home alone can be a great choice for many seniors.
As we grow older, it’s inevitable that social connections and activity will decline. Whether this is due to illness, lack of mobility, retirement or deaths of family and friends, it is a difficult, but natural part of aging. What’s not natural is feeling isolated and alone. If you are a loved one, caregiver, or friend of a senior who lives alone, it’s important to understand the warning signs of isolation. These include …
- When an illness becomes “a way of life”
- Overall lack of motivation and/or energy
- Sense of being stuck in the past, or frequently mentioning “the way things were”
- Overwhelming exhaustion that leads to excessive sleep
- Anxiety or depression that causes sleep disturbances
- Avoiding family or friends when they reach out
- Not wanting to leave the house although they are physically able
Even if these warning signs aren’t present, it’s still important to be aware of what you can do to make seniors feel more connected to their family, friends and community. Here are some tips to help avoid senior isolation…
- Invite the senior out to dinner or plan a scheduled activity. If they decline, continue to ask. Offer to go to their house and prepare a meal together.
- Help them locate a charitable cause of interest and become a volunteer. Volunteering is an excellent way to connect seniors to their community.
- Make transportation available to them, whether for appointments, errands or just to get out of the house. Lack of transportation is a major cause of social isolation.
- Find an activity where they can participate as part of a group. The group setting promotes a sense of purpose that may otherwise be lacking in their life. Things like playing cards or book clubs are great ideas.
Wintertime draws in a whole new set of concerns when it comes to safety. As temperatures drop and inclement weather arrives, seniors are more at risk for health related problems and injuries.
Whether you are living alone, with a spouse, or are the friend or caregiver of a senior who is aging in place, there are a number of things you should know about staying safe and healthy this winter. Here are a few helpful ideas …
- Slick, icy conditions are the main cause of slips, trips and falls. For seniors, these injuries can result serious complications like concussions, as well as hip and wrist fractures. Stay off of slick surfaces if possible, and always wear shoes with traction and non-skid soles. Replace the tip on walking canes or use a pick-style insert to help with walking on slippery surfaces.
- Seasonal illnesses and cold-weather conditions are common for seniors this time of year. Get the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available. There is a high-dose available for adults over 65 that provide a stronger immune response. Extreme cold can cause conditions like frostbite and hypothermia especially for seniors because they produce less body heat than younger adults. If you plan to be outside, cover your entire body and wear layers. Know the warning signs of hypothermia, and never stay outside if your skin changes color begins to hurt, or you are shivering uncontrollably.
- Fireplaces, natural gas heating, portable space and kerosene heaters all pose carbon monoxide poisoning and/or fire risks. Make sure chimneys are properly ventilated, and have them regularly inspected. Use space heaters with care and attention. Keep a fire extinguisher handy, and check all smoke detectors.
- Prepare for power outages. Winter storms can cause power outages that leave us not knowing when electricity/heat will return. Stock up on flashlights, batteries and non-perishable foods. Plan to stay with friends or loved ones that have power in the event yours is out longer than expected.
- Winterize and prepare your car. Have the battery, oil, antifreeze, tires, and windshield wipers checked before winter weather arrives. Stock your vehicle with emergency supplies like first aid kit, blanket, extra clothes, bumper cables and flashlight. Never hit the road without a cell phone.