Catching the flu is a miserable experience for anyone, but if you’re over the age of 65, the risks and dangers of the seasonal flu are significantly higher. Seniors who contract the flu have a much greater chance of developing serious complications; this is largely because the immune system defenses weaken as we age. The CDC estimates that as many at 90 percent of flu-related deaths and 70 percent of flu-related hospitalizations occur in those over 65.

Luckily, there are steps you can take to stay healthy this winter and avoid catching the seasonal flu -and many of them are surprisingly easy.

Get a Flu Shot

Unless there are other medical reasons why you cannot get the flu shot (such as an allergy to the ingredients in vaccine), getting a flu shot at the beginning of every flu season is the best line of defense against contracting this disease. The CDC recommends that everyone over six months of age gets their flu shot by the end of October; however, if the flu is still going around (which can happen well into spring), you should get vaccinated against the flu even if you missed the recommended window. Keep in mind that due to waning immunity and changes in the seasonal flu virus, you must get a new flu shot every year.

While flu vaccination is important for everyone, it’s especially important for those aged 65 and older. At the same time, seniors should be careful to get the flu vaccine that is best suited to their age group. The nasal spray vaccine is not recommended for those over 65. Seniors can opt for any other flu vaccine available, but there are two that are specifically designed for individuals aged 65 and older: the high dose flu vaccine and the adjuvanted flu vaccine.

The high dose vaccine has four times the antigen amount of the regular flu shot, increasing the immune response and boosting antibody production. Clinical trials have shown that seniors who opt for the high dose vaccine have 24 percent fewer flu infections than those who get the standard flu vaccine. Like the high dose vaccine, the adjuvanted flu vaccine helps boost immune system response as compared to the standard vaccine. Studies have found the adjuvanted flu vaccine to be 63 percent more effective than the standard flu shot.

Stay Up-to-Date with Your Pneumococcal Vaccinations

One potential flu complication that seniors face is pneumococcal pneumonia. This secondary complication is very serious and can even lead to death. For this reason, the CDC recommends that seniors receive the pneumococcal vaccination alongside the flu shot. Doing so can help you avoid one of the most dangerous complications if you do happen to contract the flu.

Wash Your Hands Thoroughly and Frequently

Besides getting vaccinated against the flu and its serious complications, there are plenty of simple, everyday actions that you can take to reduce your chances of catching the flu. Practicing good hand washing hygiene is among the most important. Take the time to wash your hands with soap and warm water several times daily, particularly before eating and after touching any potentially unclean surfaces (such as doorknobs and handrails). Keep in mind that a quick wash isn’t as effective as a complete scrub; a good rule of thumb is that you should wash your hands for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.

Of course, you may not always have access to soap and warm water. Be sure to keep an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you to help ward off germs in between hand washings.

Refrain from Touching Your Face

It can be easy to rub your eyes or touch your mouth without thinking about it but doing so can significantly increase your risk of catching the flu. That’s because touching your nose, eyes or mouth after coming into contact with flu germs can spread these germs into your mucus membranes and respiratory system. Get in the habit of keeping your hands away from your face–and make sure you wash your hands first before you do touch your eyes, nose or mouth.

Steer Clear of Crowded Public Places

It’s no surprise that if you want to avoid getting the flu, you should avoid people who have the flu–and your chances of coming into contact with someone who is carrying flu germs is much higher in crowded, public places. That doesn’t mean you have to avoid all socialization during flu season. However, you should be careful to stay away from those who appear sick, avoid close contact as much as possible and make sure you wash or sanitize your hands after shaking hands or hugging a friend or family member.

Stay Active

A wide body of research suggests regular exercise can help boost immune system response in people of all ages, but evidence suggests that getting moving can be even more helpful for people 65 and older. One study conducted by the University of Illinois found that sedentary older adults who took up cardiovascular exercise extended the duration of their flu shot effectiveness.

At PPH, we aim to support our residents in living healthy and full lives. For over 127 years, our community has provided seniors with affordable quality care and a loving, supportive environment. To find out more about our independent living, personal care, rehabilitation and skilled nursing options, please contact us today.