How to Combat Cold & Flu Season in Long Term Care

January 19, 2024

With a New Year comes new hopes, new resolutions… and a new cold and flu season.

Rates of respiratory illness are currently high across the country. As in previous years, flu season is projected to peak in February, meaning Americans are far from out of the woods regarding viral activity.

The cold and flu are mild for most patients. However, these illnesses can be dangerous for older adults and those with chronic health conditions – making long term care communities susceptible targets for an outbreak.

Thankfully, there are steps you can take to help your loved one stay healthy through cold and flu season and beyond.

1. Make sure you and your loved one get a flu shot and the latest COVID-19 booster.

Vaccination is your best defense against respiratory illness. According to the CDC, the flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of serious illness in seniors. Moreover, ensuring your loved one is vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19 has a domino effect. By getting vaccinated, you’re doing more than protecting yourself and your loved one: you are protecting your loved one’s neighbors, the long term care staff who serve them, and other families, caretakers, and visitors around the community.

Vaccines can be found free or at a low cost through the CDC. Learn more here.

2. Take preventative measures for yourself and your loved one. 

In addition to getting vaccinated, there are preventative measures you can take to keep your loved one healthy:

  • Ensuring you and your loved one wash your hands frequently
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces in your loved one’s space (including countertops, doorknobs, etc.) 
  • Wearing a mask in public spaces or when seeing visitors to decrease the risk of exposure
  • Avoiding unnecessary trips or visitors (i.e., calling friends rather than meeting out for coffee)
  • Adding a humidifier in your loved one’s room to add moisture to the air, which has been shown to help combat flu viruses

3. If you are symptomatic, stay home.

Long term care staff are heavily briefed on preventing outbreaks in long term care communities. Help your loved one’s care team in their prevention efforts by caring for yourself – and watching out for cold and flu symptoms in your home.

While you may want to visit your loved one, choosing to stay home when you are symptomatic is doing them – and their neighbors and long term care staff – a favor in the long run.

Are you interested in learning more about navigating cold and flu seasons with a loved one in long term care? See more guidance from the CDC and National Council on Aging here.