Delaware Seniors at High Risk from Widespread Flu OutbreakFamilies and Caregivers Can Battle Back With These Tips and Tools

February 13, 2013

This year's flu epidemic threatens seniors and disabled adults throughout Delmarva, as weaker immune systems make them more vulnerable to the flu. Ninety percent of all flu-related deaths and more than half of flu-related hospitalizations occur in people age 65 or older.

Visiting Angels, the nation’s leading in-home senior care company, is helping families battle back with compassionate caregivers who understand how to help prevent the flu, or care for those affected by it.

Visiting Angels caregivers can help sanitize homes, run errands, take seniors to get their flu shots, and care for seniors and take them to the doctor if they do get sick.

“This flu can be deadly for seniors because they can develop pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses, so families have to be especially vigilant with their elderly loved ones,” says David Forman, president of Visiting Angels of Sussex.

“We’ve developed basic flu kits to help seniors protect themselves from the flu,” says Forman. “Our caregivers run errands so seniors don’t go out and get exposed to the virus, especially in high-exposure areas such as the grocery store or the mall. Plus, we help sanitize their homes to keep them as germ-free as possible. Our kits and caregivers are especially helpful for people who don’t live near their elderly loved ones and want someone to protect their loved ones or watch over them if they get sick and need help recovering.”

Visiting Angels' Fight The Flu Kits include:

• Paper towels - encourage seniors to use paper towels in the bathroom instead of hand towels, which can harbor germs

• The TempleTouch thermometer - if seniors have a fever higher than 102 degrees, it could indicate they have the flu

• Vitamin C or small boxes of real orange juice - helps build seniors’ weaker immune systems

• Pocket-size hand sanitizer, with aloe - helps keep seniors’ skin germ-free without drying out sensitive skin

• Pens - seniors should always have their own pen handy as pens shared in public areas harbor germs

• Disinfectant spray - spray doorknobs, handles, light switches, and other highly touched surfaces at least once a week - viruses can live up to 48 hours on plastic and stainless steel surfaces

• Hand soap - recent studies show plain soap and water works just as well as antibacterial soaps

• Hand sanitizer wipes - to clean hands or public surfaces. Don’t rely on baby wipes, because they do not contain the proper ingredients to kill viruses and germs.

“Often seniors don’t think of themselves as elderly, ignore health warnings and resent loved ones telling them what to do,” says Forman. “Our caregivers can help nudge a senior to get protection from the flu and to get the help they need if they get the virus.”

Is it a cold, or is it flu?

Cold: Symptoms tend to develop gradually - they include runny stuffy nose, scratchy throat, sneezing, watery eyes, mild fever (below 102).

Flu: Symptoms seem to appear suddenly - they include cough without phlegm, chills, body aches, nausea, lack of appetite, and possibly vomiting and diarrhea.

Visiting Angels Fight the Flu tips

* Get the flu shot because it’s free and covered by Medicare. People 65 and older have two flu shots available to choose from - a regular-dose vaccine and a newer higher-dose flu vaccine that results in a stronger immune response. Seniors should talk to their doctors to see if they’re a good fit for this vaccine.

* Shorten the duration of symptoms by getting an antiviral medication within 48 hours.

Places seniors should avoid because they carry the most germs:

• Public restrooms - especially the sink because bacteria can survive there the longest

• Malls - especially food court tables because the rags used to clean can spread harmful bacteria - they can contain E. coli because they are not cleaned or changed regularly

• Grocery stores - this is where many people go when they are sick to get orange juice, chicken noodle soup, or medicine. Also, grocery cart handles harbor germs - about 70 to 80 percent of the shopping carts tested nationwide had E. coli, says Charles Gerba, PhD, University of Arizona

• Restaurants - one of the dirtiest areas is the table top due to the rags used to wipe them down (source: Lifescript)

• Libraries - some of the dirtiest areas are the books, computers and table tops, just from the many people who touch them each day (source: Lifescript).

During the flu season, or any time of the year, from a few hours a week to 24/7 care, Visiting Angels' compassionate caregivers can help. They offer help with personal hygiene, meal preparation, light housekeeping, shopping, errands and appointments, and joyful companionship. Call 302-329-9475 or visit