Is the Flu Shot Right for Seniors?

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Updated 7/23/17 1:08pm | A nasty cold can have many health consequences, but today Alert1 wants to focus on severe risks of influenza for seniors. Over 3 million people are infected with influenza annually, many of whom are seniors with weaker immune systems. As older adults, we become more susceptible to these seasonal illnesses.

A very common seasonal illness, the flu, can actually be dangerous for adults 65 and older. According, ninety percent of flu-related deaths and more than half of flu-related hospitalizations occur in people age 65 and older. For this reason, many health professionals strongly support the flu vaccine for seniors and young children.

Why Should I Get the Flu Shot?

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The flu shot can protect you from getting the flu, as well as prevent you from spreading it to your loved ones. Health professionals, teachers, and other public employees are often required to get the flu shot because they deal with the public on a daily basis.

Ever since 2010, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended the flu shot for healthy Americans over six months old. Their goal is to curb the spread of infection and minimize the risk of potentially dangerous complications such as pneumonia. These complications can pose a serious health risk to the very young and the elderly.

Flu Prevention for Seniors

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Seniors are at a greater risk for flu related illness, especially while in assisted living communities. The combination of shared space and close quarters results in cross contamination among older adults.

The staff at these facilities are required to be vaccinated by law, but the same cannot be said for seniors. In these facilities, many seniors defer the vaccine or may not receive the flu shot because of a shortage.

Some believe that healthy foods and vitamins can ward off the illness; however nothing has proven to be as effective as the vaccine. To keep immune from the flu, independent seniors and Alert1 members chose to live at home with a senior medical alert system. In case they need emergency help, they push the help button for assistance. 

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Speculation Over Flu Vaccines

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Unfortunately, there is limited evidence of the efficacy of the flu shot. That type of study is difficult to do, especially for high-risk groups such as the very young and the elderly. This sparks constant debate about whether or not the flu shot is much more than a placebo.

On one hand, many health professionals argue that the benefits of the flu shot are obvious; according to the CDC, influenza activity is declining nationally. In “good” vaccine years (when the flu vaccine closely resembles the circulating viral strain), getting the flu shot has been shown to reduce the risk that healthy adults will catch influenza. As a result, many people get it as a safety precaution.

On the other hand, critics argue that it is hard to tell how well flu shots protect seniors and there is no reason to subject your body to a vaccine that is not guaranteed to protect you. Because the elderly typically have weakened immune systems, they may also have a poor vaccine response. This could result in the flu vaccine not having any kind of positive effect on their body.

In 2009, a high-dose vaccine was release for seniors and that could hypothetically solve this problem. However, no studies have been published yet about how effective the new vaccine is. 

Difference Between the Flu and Other Bugs

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It can be hard to tell the difference between the flu and the common cold. In most cases, flu symptoms are more intense than cold symptoms. Flu symptoms may include:
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (common in children)
  • Body or headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Cough or sore throat
  • Chills
  • Fever of greater than 100 degrees or a “feverish” feeling (not everyone will develop a fever)

Other Flu Prevention Methods

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Fortunately, there are precautions we can all take to stay healthy. During flu season, try to avoid being in close contact with sick people. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible. When you sneeze or cough, cover your nose or mouth to avoid spreading germs.

Immediately throw away used tissues, wash your hands as often as possible, and regularly disinfect commonly used household or work surfaces. When you can’t use soap, use hand sanitizer.

If you suspect that you have the flu, your doctor can perform a test to confirm your symptoms. Finally, decide whether or not the flu shot is right for you. Many healthy adults feel that taking the vaccine helps them avoid the flu year after year.

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I encourage you to discuss your risk factors with your doctor, who will help you weigh the pros and cons of getting a flu shot. Only your doctor can help you decide if it is right for you.

If you know an older adult or someone with a weak immune system sign them up for an Alert1 medical alert system for more protection. Alert1 wants to know: Do you and your loved ones get a flu shot every year? How often does someone in your household come down with the flu?


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