Every year, the flu season can be a dangerous time for seniors. A change to the immune system or underlying health conditions puts seniors at risk for developing more severe cases of influenza, leading to complications or even death. With cases of COVID-19 on the rise, it’s more important than ever to take flu safety seriously.
James Lai, MD, Associate Chief of Clinical Affairs for Geriatrics at Yale School of Medicine, recommends patients of all ages get a flu shot. Patients 65 and older should consider a high-dose flu vaccine. It’s been shown to offer greater protection against the flu for older patients.
“Definitely get it as soon as you can. If for some reason you don’t get it and you actually end up getting the flu, it’s still important after you recover to get the flu shot because it will protect you perhaps against other strains,” Dr. Lai said.
Caregivers should also get their flu shot as soon as possible. Talk to your doctor before getting the shot if you have a known allergy to the shot, if you’re acutely sick or immunosuppressed.
Flu Symptoms in Seniors
Classic flu symptoms include high fever, runny nose, cough and shortness of breath. Dr. Lai warns older patients may exhibit subtle changes instead, such as disorientation or worsening memory.
“When we see older patients present to the hospital, we may see it as a fall, or may see it as something else, rather than the classic presentation of the flu,” Dr. Lai said.
If an older patient has a fever, they should call their doctor. If they’re not eating or drinking, experiencing shortness of breath or a change in mental status, they should seek emergency help.
In addition to getting the flu shot, Dr. Lai stressed the importance of prevention measures now associated with COVID-19. Mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing will be key throughout the winter months.
Avoid large gatherings this holiday season. Dr. Lai acknowledged it may cause a mental strain on seniors, especially after months of isolation due to COVID-19. But creating safe environments outdoors and at a distance can make a difference.
“We want to be with family members. Everyone does,” he said. “It’s just going to take a lot more effort than we’re used to.”
Schedule your flu shot