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Are you already hearing people cough and sneeze in the grocery store?

I am. It seems as if the cold and flu season has hit early, and older adults and people with chronic diseases are at the greatest risk of problems associated with the flu.

But what if your loved one has late-stage Alzheimer’s, dementia, ALS, or Lewy Body, they’re not exactly communicative–not in a helpful way, any way. 

How do you know if someone with a memory disorder or a speech problem is sick?

  • Look for change in behavior–are they more agitated? Less? Lethargic?
  • Look for skin changes–do they look flushed? Pasty? Change is the key word
  • Are their hands usually cold due to poor circulation–are they now warm and beet red? Or vice versa?
  • Try the kiss test–I can tell a fever by kissing their forehead or cheek–more than by the back of my hand
  • If you don’t go to the bathroom with them, you might need to–check for changes, smelly urine, diarrehea
  • Look at their tongue–does it look white?
  • Use a flashlight to look at their throat–do it to yourself first and let them look at yours
  • Are they like a little kid and pulling on their ears?
  • Are they making a great effort to swallow?
  • Does their abdomen look bloated? Will they let you press on it–is it tender?
  • Check their urine for a foul smell, cloudy, bloody, or low output–signs of infection or dehydration–both common in our elders. Check out my blog post, UTI’s Don’t Let Your Elder Suffer in Silence”
  • Do a full body check every few weeks–it’s easy to miss a broken bone when they can’t tell you it hurts

You need to take your mom or dad to get their flue shot, but as their caregiver,

you need one as well.

 Most caregiversdon’t have a lot of “back up” options–not the spur of the moment kind, the kind you can call because you’re running a 101 degree fever when you get up in the morning and your throat feels like a gravel road. So do all you can to prevent getting sick this winter.

So head to your doctor, your pharmacy, or wherever you read about is offering free to low cost flu shots and roll up your sleeve. You don’t want to be the carrier that brings it into your house.

Why are our elder so suseptible to colds and flus?

Because older adults have reduced cough and gag reflexes, which means the infection just sits and gets worse. They also have weakened immune systems that comes with age, and sometimes the medications they’re on, and that makes it harder for their bodies to fight flu complications such as pneumonia.

Did you know that of all age groups, those over 84 have the highest risk of dying from flu complications?

Second highest category? Those over 74 (which in many cases, are the spouse or caregiver). 

The next category are children, age 4 and younger. 

How can I tell if my loved one has the flu?

Obvious flu symptoms:

  • fever (usual)
  • headache (common)
  • tiredness and fatigue (can last 2 or 3 weeks)
  • extreme exhaustion (usual at the start of flu symptoms)
  • general aches and pain (often severe)
  • chest discomfort, cough (common and can become severe)
  • sore throat (sometimes)
  • runny or stuffy nose (sometimes)

Less obvious symptoms:

 Look for gastrointestinal problems that can accompany the flu?

Sometimes stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, may occur with the flu. But these gastrointestinal symptoms associated with the flu are more commonly seen in children.

What flu complications should older adults watch for?

Complications of flu for older adults may include the following:

  • pneumonia
  • dehydration
  • worsening of chronic medical conditions, including lung conditions such as asthma and emphysema and heart disease

It’s important for your elder to see your doctor immediately if you have any of these flu complications. They simply don’t have a strong enough immune system to effectively fight off the flu. 

How can older adults prevent getting the flu?

The best way to prevent the flu is to get an annual flu shot.

Because the flu viruses change each year, older adults need to get a flu shot each year.

According to the National Institute on Aging a flu shot for the elderly

has the following benefits:

  • reduces the risk of hospitalization by about 50%
  • reduces the risk of pneumonia by about 60%
  • reduces the risk of death by 75% to 80%

Where can older adults get a flu shot?

Visit http://www.flucliniclocator.org. Enter your ZIP code and a date (or dates) and you’ll receive information about flu shot clinics scheduled in your area.

Can older adults use the nasal spray flu vaccine?

FluMist is a nasal spray flu vaccine that contains a live flu virus. FluMist is not recommended for adults over age 49.

When should older adults get flu shots to prevent flu and flu complications?

The flu season can begin as early as October and last until May. It’s recommended that people get a flu shot in October or November so the body has a chance to build up immunity to the flu virus. It takes two weeks for the flu shot to start working. Still, if you miss the early flu shots, getting a flu shot in December is wise.

How is flu treated in older adults?

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Drink plenty of liquids.
  • Ask the doctor or pharmacist before buying a new over-the-counter cold or flu medicine to make sure it won’t interfere with prescribed medicine.

Antiviral drugs are also available by prescription to treat the flu. The antiviral drugs must be used immediately upon having symptoms of flu. These drugs work by blocking the replication of the flu virus, thus preventing its spread. Antiviral medications for flu include:

  • Tamiflu (oseltamivir)
  • Relenza (zanamivir)

If antiviral drugs are taken within 48 hours after the onset of the flu, these drugs may reduce the duration of flu symptoms. Sometimes antiviral drugs can also be used for prevention if someone is exposed to a person with the flu. Talk to your doctor.

Are there warning signs with flu that older people need to watch for?

Call your doctor immediately if you have any of these signs and symptoms with the flu:

  • You have trouble breathing with flu.
  • Your flu symptoms don’t improve or they worsen after 3 or 4 days.
  • After your flu symptoms improve, you suddenly develop signs of a more serious problem including nausea, vomiting, high fever, shaking chills, chest pain, or coughing with thick, yellow-green mucus.
  • You become lethargic to the point of not being able to communicate
  • Your fever goes above 101 and does not respond to Tylenol or Advil
  • You become extremely dizzy and fall
  • You stop putting out urine–you can’t keep down any liquids and you become dehydrated

Being a caregiver means being alert–your elder could take a drastic turn for the worse. Pay attention to the warning signs, and when in doubt, call your physician.

Do all you can stay healthy and strong.

Take mega-doses of Vitamin C. Get your rest. drink your liquids, wipe your hands often when out in public with a disinfectant gel or spray. Take Zicam or other cold preventative at the first sign of a cold–and avoid people who are actively coughing or sneezing.

I’m Carol O’Dell–and I hope you visit this blog again.

And check out my book, Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon

Carol O’Dell is a family advisor at www.Caring.com

www.mothering-mother.com

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