Fall marks the beginning of flu season in the United States, and adults who are 65 and older are one of the groups at higher risk of developing flu-related symptoms. Because immunity tends to decrease more quickly in older adults, it’s important to talk to a physician about getting a flu shot for seniors this fall. Read on for an overview of how to prevent getting the flu and the common cold, symptoms of each, and ways to treat yourself if you do get sick.
How to Prevent Getting the Flu and Colds
The best way to prevent getting the flu or a cold is to schedule an appointment for a vaccination. No vaccine is completely effective, but studies suggest that a standard flu shot reduces the risk of contracting the flu by 40–60%. Flu vaccines for seniors are recommended for people ages 65 and older. Medicare, and most insurance plans, cover flu shots, but prices will vary according to the type of vaccine administered.
When you get your flu shot, ask about being vaccinated against pneumonia, which can become a serious health concern. Pneumonia accounts for 30–40% of all hospitalizations among older adults, and often occurs during a patient’s recovery from the flu or a cold – people start to feel better, only to develop a cough and a fever. In addition to flu and pneumonia vaccines, maintaining these hygienic habits are excellent prevention measures:
- Wear a face mask.
- Exercise regularly and eat healthy foods.
- Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes.
- Keep away from sick people and crowded areas.
- Disinfect surfaces in your home or apartment – doorknobs, counters, telephones, etc.
Signs and Symptoms
Both flu and cold are contagious respiratory illnesses, but while influenza viruses cause the flu, a broader range of viruses – parainfluenza, rhinovirus, and seasonal coronaviruses – can cause the common cold. The signs and symptoms vary, as well. Let’s start with symptoms of both:
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
These are flu symptoms, which are often more intense than the symptoms of a common cold:
- Fever and Chills
- Unsteadiness or Weakness
- Muscle Pain, Body Aches, Chest Discomfort
- Worsening of Preexisting and Chronic Conditions
This list is not exhaustive, but merely a sampling of some flu symptoms that may present, which generally come on quickly – sometimes 1–4 days following exposure to the virus. (Symptoms of a cold tend to develop more slowly and include sneezing and coughing, but not a fever.) If you’re over 65 and notice these symptoms, call your doctor at once. If you consult with a physician within 48 hours of your first symptom, your physician may prescribe an antiviral medication, which can help alleviate the severity of your illness.
How to Treat Flu and Colds
Unfortunately, there is no cure for the flu or the cold, so consult with a medical professional regarding the best course of action to treat those viruses. A physician may prescribe over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) for symptoms of pain and fever, or other medications to treat secondary infections like pneumonia, bronchitis, or ear and sinus infections. Doctors also generally recommend getting plenty of sleep, drinking lots of liquids, and even eating a bowl of chicken soup.
At Atria, safety is our first priority. Healthy dining and fitness classes are part of every Atria community, and we provide on-site clinics and flu vaccines to residents during the fall and winter. Furthermore, 99% of Atria’s US employees are vaccinated from COVID-19, and our communities are enrolled in the CDC’s COVID-19 Vaccination Program. That ensures Atria residents receive top priority – and it means Atria is a safe place for older adults who want to live with peace of mind this winter.