It’s an unfortunate reality that, when it comes to viruses, seniors face more serious health consequences than younger adults. In a typical flu season, for example, older adults account for 70% to 90% of flu-related deaths and up to 70% of flu-related hospital admissions.
Making sure you have an annual flu shot and stay current with the pneumonia vaccine can help. But there are additional steps you can take to lower your risk of falling victim to a virus. Here are a few of the best ways to protect yourself.
6 Ways to Avoid the Flu
- Adopt good handwashing techniques: Washing your hands frequently, especially when you’ve been out in public or around large crowds, lowers your risk for catching most viruses. Scrub your hands and fingers carefully with hot, soapy water. The experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say it takes 20 seconds to thoroughly wash your hands. It might help to silently sing two choruses of the “Happy Birthday” song or a full chorus of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Both take about 20 seconds.
- Keep hand sanitizer nearby: For times you won’t have access to soap and water, keep a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer in your purse or pocket. The CDC recommends purchasing hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. While it should never replace handwashing when soap and water are available, it can be beneficial when you are on the go. Apply the product to the palm of one hand and then rub both hands together. Continue rubbing all areas of hands and fingers until they are dry.
- Practice healthy self-care: A strong immune system is one of the best ways to keep viruses at bay. While it’s important to take good care of yourself at any age, seniors should make it a high priority. Routine exercise, good hydration, a well-balanced diet, and quality sleep are necessities. Since chronic stress can be a drain on the immune system, learning how to better manage it is also essential. Chair yoga, bird watching, nature walks, gardening, and swimming all help beat stress.
- Limit close contact: Most viruses are highly contagious. Being near someone who is sick, even if they aren’t symptomatic, can drastically increase your risk for catching the illness. During peak flu seasons, try to limit close contact with others. Avoiding large crowds and reducing the number of trips you make to public places may also help. Also opt for contactless options when ordering food or going shopping. In addition, go for an elbow bump instead of a handshake or hug at family gatherings or parties.
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth: Most of us don’t realize how many times a day we touch our face. In doing so, you risk transferring any viruses you’ve been exposed to from your hand to your eyes, mouth, or nose. By making a conscious effort not to touch your face, you may reduce your risk of contracting the flu.
- Limit the touching of surfaces: Germs are on every surface we touch, but there are a few ways to avoid contact with some commonly used surfaces. Gas stations may have single-use plastic gloves to use while handling the pump, but not every station has them, so carry plastic grocery bags in your car just in case. Door handles are another germ-filled surface, so avoid touching these with your hands by either pushing open the door with your arm or foot, or try using a contactless door opener tool. This tool also help avoid other commonly used surfaces, such as key pads.
We encourage you to use these tips all year long and to share them with the older adults in your life. It is especially important now during these unprecedented times of COVID-19.
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