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Why Seniors and Their Caregivers Need Flu Shots

Sarah Stevenson
By Sarah StevensonSeptember 25, 2018

Last Updated: September 25, 2018

Seniors and their caregivers are especially susceptible to the flu. While most family caregivers who are sick tend to keep their senior loved ones at home, severe flu seasons can create challenges for all involved in senior care.

Adult senior care centers are seeing an increase in new participants as a result of caregiver illnesses like the flu. Can an increase in assisted living respite care stays be far behind?

Do You Need a Flu Shot?

Nearly 65.7 million caregivers make up 29% of the U.S. adult population, so caregivers play a vital role in keeping American seniors healthy. But what happens when the caregivers themselves get sick?

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The stresses of caring for a parent or senior loved one can easily cause an increased susceptibility to illness, especially during flu season. Studies have repeatedly shown that family caregiving can negatively affect the caregiver’s health, financial status and life. The Family Caregiver Alliance states that 17% of caregivers feel that their health has gotten worse as a result of their responsibilities. When the caregiver’s health gets worse, the family member’s health often suffers as well, especially for those who are caring for someone with a progressive disease like Alzheimer’s.

Severe flu seasons are difficult to contend with, so seniors and their caregivers need to be particularly vigilant during this time.

The Flu and Its Impact on Assisted and Senior Living Care

During recent flu seasons, half of those hospitalized for influenza or norovirus have been over the age of 65, the CDC reports. It’s easy to imagine how the flu can spread in a confined environment such as an assisted living community, but even healthy seniors are at risk. During flu season, adult day care and senior activity centers tend to see a reduction in attendance, as participants succumb to what illness is going around.

“We are negatively affected by the flu season because people are ill and have to stay home,” says Lydia Missaelides, Executive Director of the California Association for Adult Day Services. Shannon Parker, the Recreation Coordinator at Modesto Senior Center in Modesto, California, agrees:

“Every flu season, we will see a decrease in participation from our regulars, but we will see an increase in new people coming in at the same time”— a trend that may be due in part to family caregivers getting sick and needing to arrange daytime activity for their senior loved ones.

When home health workers are felled by a virus, the continuity of care is interrupted which can create a stressful situation for the senior’s family who must patch together emergency senior care support.

“We have caregivers who are calling in sick and because our population is so susceptible to complications of the flu, I think in some cases they’re erring on the side of caution. They don’t want to endanger their client,” says Patty King, Executive Director of Home Instead Senior Care in Modesto, California.

Ways Seniors and Caregivers Can Stay Healthy During Flu Season

So what’s the best course of action for seniors and their caregivers who want to remain active and healthy this season?

Read these tips:

  1. Avoid close contact with sick people.
  2. Consider adult day services or a respite care stay for your loved one.
  3. Get a flu shot.
  4. Get enough rest so you’re less susceptible to illness.
  5. Stay home if you are sick.
  6. Wash your hands often with soap and water.

Habits like these have helped keep Sunrise Assisted Living of Sacramento flu-free this season: “We are lucky because we keep the place clean and sanitized,” states Olga Buts, the facility’s Concierge.

Caregivers should be sure to care for themselves — make a point of getting enough rest so you’re less susceptible to illness. Also, remember most assisted living communities offer short-term respite care stays for your loved one while you recuperate.

While some types of respite care need to be scheduled ahead of time, you may be able to arrange emergency respite care on short notice by contacting A Place for Mom: (866) 333-2174.

Have you ever arranged care for a parent or senior loved one when you’ve come down with the flu? Have you had the flu shot this year? Share your stories with us in the comments below.

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Sarah Stevenson
Sarah Stevenson
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