Updated December, 2019.

With cold and flu season in full swing, it’s vital to maintain healthy habits to keep our immune systems strong. It’s also important to worry about your aging loved one’s health as much as your own.

As we age, our immune systems weaken, making us more vulnerable to contracting illnesses and reducing our ability to fight them off. For older adults, something as seemingly harmless as the common cold can quickly escalate into something much more severe. According to the CDC, “between about 70 percent and 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older, and between 50 percent and 70 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people in this age group.”

Benjamin Franklin said it best: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This winter, keep you and your family healthy by preventing illness in the first place with these cold prevention tips, courtesy of Bluebird Homecare Regional Director Jennifer Adams, LPN.

1. Wash your hands.

The viruses the cause colds and the flu can live on your hands. Washing your hands is the quickest, easiest way to prevent illness and the spread of germs. In fact, one study found that washing your hands can reduce the risk of contracting a respiratory infection by 16 percent.

During cold and flu season, it’s especially important to keep your hands clean. Wash your hands before, during, and after preparing food; before and after being around someone who is sick; after using the restroom; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

Wet your hands with clean, running water. Temperature doesn’t matter. Turn off the tap, apply soap, and lather. Don’t forget about the backs of your hands, in between your fingers, and under your fingernails. Scrub for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Just sing “Happy Birthday” twice in your head. Thoroughly rinse your hands under running water and dry with a clean towel or air dry your hands.

If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Although hand sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs, it’s better than not washing your hands at all.

2. Eat healthy.

What you eat plays a significant role in how effectively your immune system functions. Unfortunately, preventing a cold isn’t as easy as scarfing down an orange for a vitamin C boost the moment you feel a tickle in your throat. To get your immune system to function at its best, you need to fuel it with vitamins and minerals over time.

There’s no need to take the pill form of essential immunity-boosting nutrients when they are found in so many foods. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins that incorporates the colors of the rainbow is your body’s best defense.

3. Stay away from sick people.

Of course, you shouldn’t become a shut-in, but don’t spend time with sick people unless you have to. Even if someone isn’t visibly ill, they can still pass germs on to you. Illness spreads not only through hand-to-hand contact with someone who is sick but by sharing contaminated objects: doorknobs, utensils, toys, telephones, etc.

Touching your eyes, nose, or mouth after coming in contact with a sick person or contaminated object allows germs to travel to your mucous membrane and cause an infection. During cold and flu season, be cautious of the visitors who come into your loved one’s home.

4. Cover your cough.

Covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze prevents germs from becoming airborne. But using your hands is not the best way to do it. When you sneeze or cough into your hand, those germs will spread onto everything you touch.

Instead, cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow to reduce the spread of germs. If you do cough into your hand or a tissue, be sure to wash your hands afterward thoroughly. It’s a simple step that can prevent so many people from getting sick.

5. Wipe down surfaces.

Think about all the things you touch in a day: phones, remotes, the steering wheel, keyboards, doorknobs, faucets, drawer handles, the kitchen sponge…the list is endless. A shared space becomes a petri dish for germs. According to the CDC, the flu virus can survive on some surfaces for up to 48 hours.

When was the last time you cleaned your phone or wiped down your desk at work? During cold and flu season especially, make it a part of your daily routine to clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that may be contaminated with germs.

Keeping your loved ones well this winter starts with you. If you’re worried about your loved one’s health this season, it may be time to start thinking about in-home care. A homecare agency can visit with your aging parent or loved one on a schedule that complements your caregiving efforts and their specific needs.

Trying to balance caring for your own family in addition to your loved one while preparing for the holidays is bound to become overwhelming. Homecare gives you peace of mind that your aging loved one will still get the care they need to be safe, happy, and healthy.

Contact Bluebird Homecare to learn more about how we can help your family this season.