How to Help Seniors Avoid the Common Cold and Flu This Winter 

Throughout the country, dropping temperatures usually signals the onset of the cold and flu season. Most of the commonly touted precautions to avoid getting sick apply to the general population: wash your hands often, drink plenty of fluids, get enough sleep, manage stress, etc.

The elderly however, sometimes need to take additional precautions. They can be especially susceptible to winter colds and the flu because of their compromised immune system, which certain medications and health conditions exacerbate. Even seniors who are still relatively active and strong need to be vigilant. Their advanced age may hinder their body’s ability to mount an effective defense against illness.

The flu is dangerous for our elders. It can lead to pneumonia and it can be fatal. But even when caregivers are prepared, our elders can still get the flu. What you do could save their lives. The CDC ( Centers for Disease Control) reports that more than 200,000 people will be hospitalized this year due to the flu–36,000 will die.

How to Avoid Getting Flu & Cold This Winter?

Following are some steps you can take to help keep the senior citizen in your life healthy and safe this winter flu season.

Get Vaccinated

While this increasingly popular anti-influenza practice has its detractors, it remains one of the best ways to prevent seniors from getting the flu. The Center for Disease Control and the Federal Drug Administration both stand behind vaccinating to prevent the influenza virus.

It is true that getting vaccinated is not an iron clad guarantee against getting sick (no vaccine can promise that). However, in the rare events where it does not prevent the illness altogether, it greatly mitigates harmful symptoms in the elderly who contract the flu after having been vaccinated.

It is best to schedule a vaccination with a doctor who is familiar with the medical history of the senior to be vaccinated to avoid potential complications.


Winter also ushers in the holiday season, which means crowded shopping malls, a house full of relatives, and the beginning of the party season.  Avoiding crowds helps protect people from catching the cold or the flu virus from a random passerby who is infected. If you must shop in store, do so during the time of the day when the stores and malls will be least crowded.

Remain Active

It is sometimes very tempting during winter to cut back on regular exercise because the weather seems to prompt latent hibernation genes to kick in. While sleep and rest are important in combating illness, staying active can be very helpful as well. The physiological effects of purposeful activity can be beneficial in conditioning your body to fight illness.

What If Your Elder Does Get the Flu?

The problem with the flu is that it opens the gate for other illnesses and because the body’s immune system is already under attack. The flu can lead to sinus and ear infections,  respiratory infections such as bronchitis  and pneumonia, to name a few.

Dr. W. Paul McKinney, associate dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Louisville, explains that viral pneumonia is of particular concern. In our elders we also have to be aware of congestive heart failure, chronic lung disease, or renal failure as well as something as simple as dehydration that can be dangerous for our elders.

  • Go on high alert. Don’t miss a symptom. This is the time as a caregiver when you’ve got to be on your game. Consider wearing a mask and glove and wash your hands like crazy. Make sure they cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze.  You might want to quarantine them to one area of the house to try to keep the germs contained.
  • Ask your doctor if they should take a flu inhibitor–several brands are available that will diminish the symptoms.
  • See the doctor. While a healthy adult may just have to endure the flu, an elder should be checked for secondary symptoms and monitored closely.
  • Disclose all medications and allergies.
  • Push the liquids.
  • Have a back up person in case you get sick.
  • Don’t forget to be encouraging and thoughtful–your elder feels horrible (trust me, I know) and might be scared. Placing a candle on their dinner tray, rubbing their feet, or tucking them in at night lets them know you care.

Being a care advocate means being ready–and although you might not be able to prevent your elder from contracting the flu, you can do all you can to protect them during the flu season.

Whether your senior loved one lives in an assisted living facility or in your home, preventing them from getting the flu or the cold this winter season is a great holiday gift and certainly a reason to celebrate. Have a happy and health holiday season!