It’s that time of year again: cold and flu season. Senior citizens and children are at the most risk for contracting the flu, a cold, or just about any other kind of infection, and they’re less able to fight it off. In fact, infections cause one third of all deaths of Americans over the age of 65, according to the AAFP, and even relatively common infections, such as the flu, can turn deadly when contracted by someone with a weakened immune system. With that in mind, it’s important that we think about the ways we can protect our older loved ones from infection, especially this time of year.
Show Your Skin Some Love
As we age, our skin not only wrinkles, but tends to get thin and papery, which not only makes scrapes and other injuries more likely, it also makes it easier for bacteria and viruses to penetrate the skin barrier and work their way into the blood stream. This, combined with the lowered function of their immune system, makes it more likely they’ll contract an infection, so advise your loved ones to take good care of their skin. Advise them to moisturize regularly (especially in winter) and to take supplements like collagen that can help keep their skin strong.
Vaccines are your friend. In addition to the yearly flu vaccine, there are also vaccines for shingles and bacterial pneumonia that have proven effective. The flu vaccine can be anywhere from 30%-70% effective, depending on how well that year’s vaccine matches up with the flu strain that becomes prominent that year.
Beware of Catheters
Leaving catheters in for too long can lead to urinary tract infections (UTIs), so you should try to limit their use on your loved one as much as possible. When using one cannot be avoided, be sure to make use of some of the effective topical therapies that are available out there for women. For men suffering from prostate issues, there are surgeries and medications that have proven effective in preventing and dealing with UTIs. Be sure to talk with your loved ones’ doctor(s) about the use of catheters and the longest they should be left inside the patient. Then follow up with the nurses and staff to make sure they’re all aware of and on board with the catheter restrictions for your loved one.
Know the Signs
Finally, it’s important to know the signs of illness in older Americans. While the rest of us tend to become feverish and produce white blood cells to fight off the infection, older Americans don’t always exhibit those signs. In fact, a change in mental status (such as cognitive impairment or even delirium) can occur in older patients with infections. Delirium occurs in as many as half the older patients who contract any kind of infection. So while your loved one’s cognitive decline might just be a normal part of their aging process, it could be a sign of something worse, so play it safe and get them checked for infections before you write off their changing behavior.
Here at Stillwater Senior Living, we treat our residents like family. Our apartments include studio, one bedroom, and two bedroom suites. They are designed with security features, maximum accessibility, and include walk-out patois with a full range of amenities for the entire family.
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