With the holidays quickly approaching, many older folks need to prepare for the unfortunate side effects winter weather brings: cold and flu season. The National Council on Aging reports that most adults experience an average of two to four colds per year.1
Our immune systems weaken as we get older, so it's paramount for seniors to adequately prepare to fend off those pesky germs. There are plenty of ways to stay safe during the season of sniffles. Below we've put together a list of seven ways to make it through the cold and flu season unscathed.
1. Avoid Large Crowds and Unnecessary Travel
The flu and cold viruses are incredibly contagious. They can spread up to six feet away from person to person through coughing, sneezing, or even casual conversation, so it's important to refrain from large crowds and unnecessary travel when you can.
Of course, that can prove difficult during the holiday season — especially if you have family and friends who are out of state. Being in crowds — particularly on airplanes —makes you more susceptible to catching a cold or the flu.
Tool Tip: Check out our guide to pneumonia in seniors to know the signs, symptoms, recovery time, and more.
If you travel or frequently take public transportation, the CDC highly recommends wearing a mask or respirator over your nose and mouth and remaining six feet apart from others when possible.2 Whether you plan to enjoy the season at home or travel, this will provide an extra layer of protection.
2. Drink Plenty of Water and Take Your Vitamins
One of the easiest things to do during cold and flu season is ensure you drink plenty of liquids and take vitamins to boost your immune system. Vitamin C plays a key role in maintaining health levels in older adults by neutralizing free radicals that can damage healthy cells and cause disease. A daily dose of 200 milligrams is the magic number for many individuals, but it's important to speak with your health-care provider before taking this dosage.
Did You Know: The National Library of Medicine found evidence that vitamin C can help prevent cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease in older adults.3
Staying hydrated can also help the body combat illness. The National Council on Aging recommends taking one-third of your body weight and drinking that many fluid ounces of water per day.4
3. Take Advantage of Home Remedies
Everyone has heard of curing a flu or cold with the classic American comfort dish: chicken noodle soup. Dr. Stephen Rennard, from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, conducted a study that revealed chicken noodle soup contains a number of substances that can reduce inflammation and ease symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections.1
That said, there are an array of things you can do to help prevent the cold and flu or reduce symptoms from home.
- Rest as much as possible to help your body to recover.
- Take over-the-counter decongestants and antihistamines to ease symptoms.
- Drink hot liquids such as tea and honey to soothe your throat.
- Add a cool-mist humidifier to your home to help with nasal inflammation.
- Gargle with saltwater to loosen mucus and ease throat pain.
The Cleveland Clinic reports that any form of moderate exercise can boost the immune system and reduce the risk of catching a cold in older individuals.5 By exercising for 20 to 30 minutes per day five days a week, you can reduce the risk of chronic disease, metabolic disease, and respiratory illness such as cold or flu. Whether you enjoy walking, water aerobics, or sitting exercises, you can track your progress with a Fitbit or journal.
Tool Tip: Need some workout ideas? Check out our guide to exercise for seniors to learn about the benefits and ways you or a loved one can improve physical health.
5. Get Your Flu Shot
Getting a flu shot can be critical during the winter season, particularly for older adults. The AARP disclosed that in June, CDC guidelines were updated to reflect that adults 65 and older should get immunized with an adjuvanted or high-dose vaccine that can offer greater protection to older folks. Many pharmacies distribute flu shots for free, so you can further protect your immune system.
6. Stay Away From People Who Are Sick
This may seem obvious, but keeping your distance from people who are under the weather is paramount. Watch your own health by staying away from infected individuals or limit contact by avoiding unnecessary touching, such as hugging. You should also avoid touching surfaces or objects that sick individuals have touched.
7. Wash Your Hands
The golden rule for cold and flu season is washing your hands. Frequently washing with regular soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds can eliminate germs, but be sure to clean under your nails, the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and around your wrists.
From the Pros: Check out Mayo Clinic's Dos and Dont's of Handwashing for tips.
If you are unable to access soap and water often enough, especially while you are out and about, carrying hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol to kill cold and flu germs will also suffice.
The holiday season can be filled with cheer, but it is also known for a sharp increase in the common cold and flu, so it's important to take extra precautions. Whether you prefer using home remedies or exercising, there are many ways to protect yourself and come out of cold and flu season unscathed.