Influenza Prevention and Symptoms in Older Adults

by | Sep 4, 2018


As influenza (flu) season quickly approaches, it’s important that you and your client take proper precautions to prevent the infection.  It’s also significant to learn the signs and symptoms of the flu. According to the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “…between about 70 percent and 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths in the United States have occurred among people 65 years and older.”[1]  This is because the immune system weakens with age and has more difficulty fighting infections.[1]   Thus, as the senior person’s caregiver, understanding the signs and prevention of the flu can greatly influence its severity.  

Flu Vaccination[1]  

The CDC states that the first and best way to prevent the flu (for yourself and your client) is by getting a flu vaccination, as seniors are high risk for the infection.  The CDC recommends getting the flu shot by the end of October.[2]  There are two specific vaccine options for seniors that promote a stronger immune system.  These include:

  • High dose flu vaccine
    • This vaccine has four times the amount of antigen as a typical flu shot, which helps promote a stronger immune response.   
  • Adjuvanted vaccine
    • This vaccine is the typical flu vaccination plus an additional adjuvant.  Adjuvant helps promote a stronger immune response.

The side effects of the flu shot is much milder than the flu itself.  It should be noted that not everyone gets all (or even some) of these side-effect symptoms.  The CDC also notes that “…the high dose and adjuvanted flu vaccines may result in more of the mild side effects that can occur with standard-dose seasonal shots.”[1]   The side effects of the flu vaccine include:

  • Tenderness, redness, soreness, and/or swelling where the shot was injected
  • Some individuals have reported heachaches, fever, muscle aches, nausea, or tiredness

It’s always important to consult with your client’s doctor to see which vaccine they recommend for your client.


Flu Symptoms[1]

Even if they’re well managed, long-term health problems, such as diabetes and asthma, can become worse from the flu.  If your client experiences any of the following symptoms, even if they have a flu shot, notify their doctor immediately.  

  • Fever or chills (or feeling feverish)
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Sometimes diarrhea and vomiting

You should always notify your client’s doctor if they have any of the above symptoms.  However, the following are the CDC’s emergency signs of the flu in adults that require urgent medical attention – seek immediate care if the sick person has any of the following signs:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough


Tips For Caring For Someone With the Flu[3]

If your client’s doctor allows your client to remain at home with the flu (instead of staying at the hospital), follow the CDC’s tips for caring for someone with the flu at home.

  • To prevent dehydration (fluid loss), make sure your client drinks lots of water and other clear liquids.
  • Have your client cover their nose and mouth with their elbow when they sneeze or cough.
  • Throw tissues in the trash after use.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water.  Or, if soap/water are not accessible, utilize an alcohol-based hand rub.  
  • Prevent the spread of germs by refraining from touching your mouth, nose, and eyes.
  • If your client’s doctor prescribed them flu medication, make sure they are taken properly based on the directions.

The CDC also recommends keeping the following around the sick person:

  • Tissues
  • Alcohol-based hand rub
  • Trash can with lid and lined with trash bag
  • Cooler with ice and drinks
  • Cup with straw or squeeze bottle to help drinking
  • Thermometer
  • Humidifier
    • A humidifier is a machine that puts droplets of water into the air to promote easy breathing.
  • A light blanket to alleviate chills.

Cleaning a Sick Client’s Environment[3]

It’s very important to clean the surfaces in a sick client’s house as germs spread through hands.  Clean surfaces that may contain flu germs such as tables, doorknobs, bathroom sinks and toilets, countertops, television remotes, and phones.  You can clean these surfaces using household cleaners or water and dish soap.

In addition, clean bed linens and laundry with laundry detergent, being sure to keep the dirty laundry away from your face and body.  Dry them in the hot dryer setting. Wash your hands immediately after handling dirty laundry.

Wash your hands frequently, especially after touching the sick client or handling their used tissues or laundry.  When washing, either “…sing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song two times or count slowly to 20 as you wash.”[3]  

To learn more about maintaining a clean environment, click here.    

Preventing Dehydration[3]

Those with the flu have a higher chance of becoming dehydrated.  Dehydration can be very serious, so it’s important to make sure your client is drinking plenty of liquids.  Encourage your client to drink liquids, even if they’re not eating well. However, double check with your client’s doctor on how much is a safe amount of liquid for your client to drink.  Have your client avoid drinking:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeinated beverages:
    • Soda
    • Tea  
    • Coffee  

Instead, offer drinks like water or broth; you can even add fruits or herbs to the water to flavor it.  To make it easier for the older person to drink, use straws.

The CDC has identified the following as signs of dehydration in adults.  Notify your client’s doctor immediately if:

  • They are not making tears
  • They have less than normal amount of urine
  • Their skin is dry and “…takes long to go back to position when pinched.”[3]
  • Their eyes and/or mouth are dry
  • Their heart is beating faster than normal
  • Blood is found in their stool or vomit  

Again, it’s always important to immediately notify your client’s doctor, even if they only have one of the symptoms of flu (including emergency symptoms) or dehydration.  As their caregiver, notifying your client’s doctor can save their lives and prevent the disease from getting worse. Furthermore, if you experience one or more of any of the above symptoms, notify your supervisor immediately.  Your sickness can also get the client sick, so it’s important to take care of yourself. Another way to help promote the health of yourself and your client is by also getting the flu shot.

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