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Managing Flu Season When Caring for a Loved One

With the switch to cooler weather, comes the arrival of flu season.

Influenza, or ‘flu’, is a respiratory illness caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. Some people experience a mild illness when infected, but flu is not just a bad cold. . Flu can last 7-10 days, and you may still experience some tiredness and fatigue symptoms for up to 2 weeks afterwards.

Why is Flu More of a Threat to Older People?

As we age, our immune system weakens, which makes it harder for our bodies to fight off infection. When your body is fighting off flu, it becomes more vulnerable to secondary infections like pneumonia. Older people are also more likely to be living with other health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. These can cause complications as flu takes hold.

Flu season can be a worrying time, but there are a number of ways that you can help manage flu, protect yourself and loved ones from the virus, and manage the symptoms if infected.

Protection is the Best Approach

Flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent flu and its complications, but one jab doesn’t protect you in the long term. This is because, each year, the strain of the virus that is causing the illness changes.  The World Health Organisation will monitor flu across the world to determine which strains are circulating. They then alter the components of the vaccine to include protection from those strains, so it is important that you get your flu vaccination every year.

It’s also important to remember that a vaccine doesn’t give you immediate protection. It can take around two weeks for your body to have a protective response. That’s why it is recommended that you organise your vaccine between September and early November, giving you time to build your immunity before the amount of flu circulating in the community rises.

All of our residents are offered flu vaccinations each year, and these are given in the nursing home.  If you are responsible for making healthcare decisions for your loved one, staff will ask each year if you give consent for flu vaccination.

If you look after someone who is more vulnerable to flu, we recommend getting the vaccine yourself too. We encourage all of our staff to have annual flu vaccination.

Spotting the Symptoms

Colds, flu, and COVID-19 all share similar symptoms, but they’re caused by different viruses. If you are unwell, a GP or other healthcare professional will be best placed to tell which one you have, but here are some things to look out for if you think you or your loved one has flu:

  • Fever and chills
  • General aches and pains
  • A dry cough
  • Headache
  • A rise in temperature
  • Feeling very tired

At Randolph Hill, our staff are alert to any changes in a resident’s condition, and our trained and experienced nurses can assess those changes to see if they are symptoms of flu.

Managing the Symptoms

If your loved one gets flu, there are a number of ways that you can help them to feel better and ease the symptoms.

Make sure that they are getting plenty of fluids to drink, such as water and juice. It’s important to stay hydrated, especially as we tend to not drink and eat as well when we’re sick, and you can lose a lot of water through sweat, particularly if your temperature is high.  It’s best to avoid any caffeinated or alcoholic drinks.

Over-the-counter medicines, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, will help to ease some of the aches and pains, and bring down your temperature.

It’s also important that the person with flu gets lots of rest, as this reduces the strain on the body, and helps to speed recovery.

Older people with flu may not only have less of an appetite, but may find eating very tiring.  Milder flavours and softer textures may make it easier for them, so try things like soups, mince, bananas, yoghurts, and fruit smoothies.  At all of our Randolph Hill Nursing Homes, our chefs are experienced in making healthy meals and drinks to tempt people with little appetite.

If symptoms are not improving or are getting worse, it is better to talk to a health professional, as they will be able to determine if prescribed medication or antivirals are needed to reduce the chance of complications.  Our nurses will seek advice from our colleagues in community health, such as GPs or Advanced Nurse Practitioners, if they have concerns about a resident with flu symptoms.  Often the local NHS Health Protection Team will advise that a nasal swab is taken to identify the virus causing the symptoms, so that treatment with antivirals can be started if appropriate.

Preventing the spread

The recent pandemic means that we all know a lot more about preventing the spread of a virus. Fly is spread in the same way, through very small droplets in the aid caused by people coughing, sneezing or even talking.

To stop it spreading to other household members, you’ll need to avoid contact as much as possible. If you are a carer looking after an older person, it’s best to avoid all contact and pass over the caring responsibilities to someone else until you are feeling better.

Here are some other ways you can protect yourself and your loved ones:

  • Don’t share food or drinks
  • Wash and sanitise your hands frequently throughout the day
  • Cover your mouth if you sneeze or cough
  • Regularly clear frequently touched surfaces around the home (remotes, light switches, door handles etc)
  • Try to maintain adequate ventilation – not easy in Scotland in winter, but even opening a small window for short periods of time to allow some fresh air to circulate can help.

At Randolph Hill, we take all precautions to prevent the spread of flu viruses in our nursing homes. If we suspect a resident has flu, we will make arrangements to protect others too.  If necessary, we will arrange for residents who are unwell to be seen by the relevant healthcare professionals. All staff are experienced in managing flu symptoms, making sure the environment is clean and safe, and preventing the spread to other residents.