Caregivers: how to care for loved ones during cold and flu season

Peak flu season is here; ages 65+ more vulnerable

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 36 states already have widespread flu activity, much earlier than the usual February peak. Twenty-one of those states show a high number of cases, including Indiana and Kentucky. People age 65 and older are more vulnerable to serious — and sometimes deadly — consequences of flu.

Here are some tips on how to monitor and care for older loved ones during cold and flu season.

Prevention is key

Make sure that your loved one keeps their flu and pneumonia vaccines up-to-date and that they visit their primary care provider for physicals and follow-up care. Flu shots are the best way to prevent the flu but may not be 100 percent effective. Proper hand washing and cough etiquette will help prevent germs from spreading. If you cough or sneeze, use your arm or elbow to cover it. Using your hands to cover coughs and sneezes can spread germs if you don’t wash your hands after.

Your loved one is sick. Now what?

If you suspect your loved one has a cold or flu, they should stay home and rest. It’s important for your loved one to drink water and eat well while sick. Caregivers should closely monitor temperature and other symptoms including cough, sore throat and body aches. Symptoms suggestive of a more serious illness might include difficulty breathing, wheezing, low oxygen, confusion (or a change from their baseline mental status) and persistent fever. Not sure if it’s the cold, the flu or something more serious? Call your loved one’s primary care provider for direction. Remember, you do not need to figure this out alone.

Pay attention to over-the-counter medicines

Tylenol (less than 3 grams per day, with limited use) taken frequently helps with body aches and low-grade fever. Warm salt water gargles and/or throat sprays can soothe a sore throat, as long as they do not interfere with other medicines your loved one is taking.

Using over-the-counter medications, including cough syrups and antihistamines, can interfere with some routine medications, particularly blood pressure medications. People 65 and older are particularly vulnerable to medication side effects and drug interactions. Any over-the-counter medication should be screened first by the primary care provider and/or discussed with a pharmacist prior to using.

“Anytime symptoms don’t improve in a day or two or the condition worsens, call your provider,” said Carmel J. Person, M.D., Norton Community Medical Associates – House Calls. “Caring for older loved ones can be perplexing, even for the most experienced providers.”


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