Seniors and the Flu

Dr. Richard Birkel and Dr. Michael Jhung

This article, entitled "Seniors and the Flu," is presented by the National Council on Aging in collaboration with Sanofi Pasteur.

Millions of Americans with parents and grandparents 65 years of age and older find themselves taking on the role of caregivers. Even when your older loved ones are healthy, active and independent, you can still play a big role in helping them stay healthy. During flu season, reminding older loved ones in your life to get the flu shot can go a long way to help protect them from what can be a dangerous illness - even in healthy older adults.

Each year in the United States, flu takes a toll on seniors with an estimated nine out of 10 flu-related deaths and more than six out of 10 flu-related hospitalizations occurring in people 65 years of age and older. Human immune defenses weaken with age; this means the body is less able to defend itself against severe influenza illness. Increasing age also decreases the body's ability to have a good immune response following flu vaccination.

The flu can be especially dangerous for the large number of older adults who have a chronic condition, such as diabetes or heart disease, as people with chronic conditions are at increased risk for flu complications, including hospitalization or even death. Studies have shown that influenza is associated with an increase of heart attacks and stroke. Diabetes also suppresses the immune system and illnesses such as the flu can make it difficult to control blood sugar levels.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends an annual flu vaccination as the single best way to protect against the flu. Influenza activity typically peaks in January or February and may continue beyond these months so it's never too late to get your flu shot.

In the video below, Dr. Richard Birkel of the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and Dr. Michael Jhung from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explain why knowing the facts about the flu is especially important for people 65 years of age and older. They'll also discuss flu vaccine options, including one developed just for seniors, offer prevention tips, and outline what we can expect during this upcoming season.

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