October 30, 2019
Infection Prevention is Everybody's Business
The cold and flu season is upon us again and each of us has an important role to play in preventing infection. Unfortunately, seniors and caregivers are two of the most likely groups of people to get sick. Older adults have weaker immune systems and so do most caregivers (due to lack of sleep and chronic stress). And because you spend a lot of time together, you’re more likely to pass germs back and forth.
Even so, there’s still a lot that you can do to reduce the chances that you or your older adult will get sick and to reduce the length or severity of an illness. Basically, the goal is to boost the immune system and reduce exposure to germs.
Below are 10 infection prevention tips to reduce risk for seniors and caregivers
1) Wash or sanitize hands thoroughly and often
Hand washing is the key! Frequent hand washing with regular soap is an effective way to get rid of cold and flu germs.
Using regular soap is fine because rubbing the hands together for at least 20 seconds is what eliminates germs – long enough to sing the Happy Birthday song twice. Make sure to clean under the nails, backs of hands, between fingers, and wrists.
If you can’t get to soap and water often enough, use hand sanitizer to kill cold and flu germs. This may be a good option for older adults who can’t easily get up to wash their hands.
2) Get preventative vaccines
Getting a flu shot reduces the risk of getting the flu. It also reduces the severity of the illness and protects against complications – both especially important for seniors. And when you get a flu shot, you reduce the risk that you’ll get sick and infect your older adult.
Two vaccines are specifically designed for people 65 and older – the “high dose” and “adjuvanted” flu vaccines.
People who are 65 years of age and older should also be up to date with pneumococcal vaccinations to protect against pneumococcal disease, such as pneumonia, meningitis, and bloodstream infections. Pneumococcal pneumonia is an example of a serious flu-related complication that can cause death. Talk to your doctor to find out which pneumococcal vaccines are recommended for you. You can get the pneumococcal vaccine your provider recommends when you get the flu vaccine.
3) Exercise regularly
Moderate exercise boosts the immune system and could reduce risk of a cold by a third. Even though caregiving doesn’t leave a lot of time for exercise and older adults may not have a lot of endurance, any amount of regular exercise will benefit the body and immune system.
4) Avoid touching the eyes, nose, and mouth
We often touch our faces without thinking, which is a common way for cold and flu germs to enter the body. To reduce the risk of getting sick, minimize touching of the face.
5) Clean the environment to eliminate germs
Try to keep the environment as germ-free as possible. That means using disinfectant when cleaning, especially in the bathroom and kitchen.
When cleaning, pay special attention to germ hot spots like doorknobs, light switches, and kitchen and bathroom counters. And, make sure to disinfect cleaning sponges and rags (a breeding ground for germs) by changing them frequently, soaking in bleach, microwaving for 1 minute, or running through the dishwasher.
In workplaces outside of the home, wash your hands after touching communal office spaces and regularly disinfect your own work area.
6) Sanitize your mobile devices
Something that many people forget is how dirty and germ-filled their mobile device is. Clean it regularly with sanitizing wipes or rubbing alcohol – being careful not to wet the electronics.
7) Stay away from people who are sick
It might sound obvious, but it’s worth repeating: keep your distance from people who are sick. If you need to be around a sick person, limit your contact and avoid unnecessary touching like shaking hands or hugging.
8) Avoid crowds and unnecessary travel
Try to avoid being in large groups of people, especially in poorly-ventilated spaces. That increases the chance of catching a cold or flu from an infected person.
9) Drink plenty of liquids
Drinking plenty of liquids, especially plain water or hot tea, helps the nasal passages stay moist and trap germs before they can spread into the body.
10) Eat healthy, balanced meals
Eating healthy, balanced meals is especially important and can reduce the risk of getting sick. A healthy diet:
- focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products.
- includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts.
- is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins and minerals. Protein is necessary to help your body repair cells and make new ones. Foods high in fiber such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may improve digestion. Certain vitamins may help prevent damage to the body's cells. They also may help repair damage to your body tissue caused by a chronic disease. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish and may help decrease constipation and inflammation.
If you or your loved one is struggling with chronic illness, medication management or ensuring a safe and healthy home environment, contact EveryStep Home Care for assistance. We now provide in-home care in 20 central, south-central and southern Iowa counties. Call 855-867-4692 to reach our team, or learn more at www.everystep.org.