January 17th, 2013 at 10:10 am
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Harsh flu season in 2013: hazard to elders

by Dorian Martin

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to learn how to knit. I’m making fast work on this particular goal, having signed up for a series of three classes this month. I went to the first class and really enjoyed it and have since been working on my homework. But when my second class came up this week, I postponed it. Why? I had received an email the day before that the yarn store owner (who teaches the class) and her employee had closed up the store were going home sick. I probably would have gone to the class if I lived alone, but I decided to postpone the lesson since my 87-year-old father lives with me and I wasn’t sure whether the yarn store owner was still contagious.

Flu season on the offensive

Many media outlets are reporting that the 2012-13 flu season is an especially harsh one. USA Today pointed out that this particular flu outbreak has started earlier, sickened more people and covers a broader swath of the United States. Through the end of 2012, the seasonal flu was linked to these statistics:

  • Deaths of 18 children under the age of 18
  • Hospitalization of 2,257 persons

The outbreak is particularly scary for elders since people who are 65 and older have a weaker immune system due to aging. Flu.gov notes that the elderly normally represent a high number of flu cases:

  • 90 percent of flu-related deaths
  • More than 50 percent of flu-related hospitalizations

As of Jan. 5, 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of elevated influenza levels, with 47 states reporting widespread flu activity. Furthermore, the nation saw a high rate of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness.

Protecting elders (and yourself)

When I told Dad of my decision to postpone the knitting class, he thought it was for the better. “You know, if I get sick with that flu, it would probably be the end of me,” he commented.

So how can you, as a caregiver, avoid the flu? As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, experts recommend that seniors and their caregivers get the flu shot. You also should avoid close contact with sick people (thus, my postponing the class). Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth (which harbor germs) and use a tissue to cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Also be sure to throw away the used tissue afterward. Finally, practice self-care to remain healthy during these months with strategies like these:

  1. Exercising
  2. Eating a healthy diet
  3. Getting enough sleep
  4. Drinking plenty of fluids
  5. Managing stress

Taking care of yourself and others

For more ideas on self-care for caregivers in 2013, see the article Do your New Year’s plans include you? We really encourage you to find some time in your busy schedule to take care of yourself. And we support your good work with our Share Why You Care contest. Submit your story about caregiving and you could win a gift card or even a free spa day.

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