Caregivers Need to Take Extra Precautions Against Flu
I walked into the office and was accosted by a coworker who was visibly sick. She had a fever, a cough and a runny nose. And of course, she was parading around like she was the hero for coming into work while she was ill.
At the time I was the family advocate for Mom, who had Alzheimer’s disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that had greatly compromised her lungs. Mom lived in a nursing home at this point, but I made daily visits both to support Mom and also to be a visible presence to the nursing home staff.
Although I didn’t say anything to the coworker, I was furious! And I did file a complaint with my supervisor. I told her that I didn’t appreciate my coworker coming in sick and that she could easily infect me, which would put me out of commission at a time when I could not afford it work-wise and caregiving-wise. Furthermore, if I did end up getting the bug, it was possible that I would pass it on to Mom, which could have had devastating consequences. Fortunately, that last scenario didn’t happen.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) pointed out that people who are 65 years of age and older have the greatest risk of having serious complications due to the flu. Complications can include pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections. “It’s estimated that 90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths and more than 60 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations in the United States each year occur in people 65 years and older,” the CDC states, adding that the cause is weakened human immune defenses caused by age.
So what lessons did I learn from this situation? Here’s the list:
- Get a flu shot, have your loved one get one, and encourage others to do so, too! The CDC recommends that starting at 6 months of age, everyone should get a seasonal flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available. The flu vaccine is specially designed each year to protect against the flu strains that researchers have found will be most common during the season. Immunity sets in about two weeks after vaccination. People who are 65 years-old and above have an option of two flu shots. The first is a regular dose flu shot. The second is a vaccine designed specifically for older adults that has a higher dose, which is associated with a stronger immune response to vaccination.
- Use good health habits. That includes washing your hands often, covering your mouth when you cough, and avoiding people who are sick.
- Talk to your boss about your caregiving situation and ask him or her to encourage staff members to get the flu shot. Also, ask your boss whether it would be possible to ask employees who are sick to work from home instead of at the office.
- Talk to your coworkers about your caregiving situation prior to the start of flu season. Ask them to get a flu shot. Also, if they get sick, ask them to stay away from you so you don’t become infected.
- If you develop symptoms of the flu, seek medical advice quickly. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea. The CDC points out that people may actually have the flu and respiratory symptoms while not having a fever.
- If you do suspect that you have the flu, stay home from work!
As a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, you need to take flu season seriously! Be sure to take the steps that can protect both you and your loved one this fall!
Primary Resources for this Sharepost:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). What you should know and do this flu season if you are 65 years and older.