How to Keep Seniors Healthy Over the Holidays as Illness Like COVID, RSV and the Flu Spread

It’s going to be another rough winter for respiratory illnesses, including influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the total number of hospitalizations are expected to be higher again this year than what the country experienced before the COVID-19 pandemic. So how can you protect the seniors in your life over the holidays? . 

If you are planning to be with senior loved ones this holiday season, it’s a good idea to take some precautions to help keep them healthy and safe.  

The CDC has some  advice that can help:  

  • Get vaccinated. Immunizations are available for the flu, COVID-19, and RSV (if you qualify). Immunizations can help improve your body’s ability to ward off these respiratory illnesses.
  • Consider wearing masks. Tight-fitting masks like an N95 or KN95 can help protect seniors, and wearing masks can really help protect older adults and  people who are immunocompromised.
  • Participate in physical distancing. Even though it can be challenging for indoor events, physical distancing can help decrease the risk of spreading illness. It may help to invite fewer people or choose a larger location for your holiday gatherings to make physical distancing easier.
  • Wash your hands. Encourage everyone to wash their hands as soon as they arrive and after they come in contact with germs, such as after blowing their nose. It is best to wash your hands vigorously with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Improve airflow. Open windows and screen doors for your gathering, and turn on whole-house fans. An air purifier may also help cut down on germs in the air.

Don’t wait to seek care. There are effective, widely available treatments available for seniors who contract a respiratory illness. Test right away if you think you might be sick and don’t delay treatment if your test comes back positive.   

In addition to following the latest guidelines, here are a few other ways to keep your senior loved ones healthy this holiday season. 

Do a courtesy cleaning

If you’re hosting and will have a senior loved one over for the holidays, clean high-touch surfaces and objects before they arrive. This can be a simple and effective way to prevent the spread of illnesses. 

High-touch surfaces include light switches, door handles, and sink taps. They can also include shared equipment, such as microwave and fridge handles.

If you’re visiting a senior loved one, you can offer to sanitize high-touch surfaces for them when you arrive, or before you leave.   

Keep hand sanitizer at the ready

One of the most simple and effective ways to prevent the spread of illnesses is to keep hands clean.

In addition to encouraging hand washing, it doesn’t hurt to make hand sanitizer easily accessible during your holiday gatherings. Medical professionals recommend that sanitizers contain at least 60 percent alcohol. If you stocked up on hand sanitizer during the pandemic, be sure to check the expiration date – these products can become less effective over time.

It’s good to remember that hand sanitizers can be harsh on the skin, especially aging skin. As a courtesy to the seniors in your life, and other guests too, consider setting lotion in a pump bottle next to your hand sanitizer. 

Encourage your loved ones to stay hydrated

It is very important for seniors to be mindful about their water intake. Not drinking enough water can quickly lead to dehydration, a weakened immune system or even hospitalization.

If you’re hosting over the holidays, make sure your senior loved one has something healthy to drink. You can even encourage them to keep a bottle of water accessible and nearby.That might even be a good gift idea for the senior in your life. There are water bottles that track water intake to help encourage hydration. If the senior in your life has declining dexterity, there are also adaptive cups that are easy to manage and can help reduce spills. 

Avoid getting together if you think you might be sick

An elderly woman puts a medical mask on her face.

Don’t risk spreading an illness if you’re getting over being sick, or think you might be coming down with something.

If you’re not sure if you might be getting sick, testing can be a good idea to determine if it’s safe to gather with loved ones. You can buy over-the-counter COVID-19 tests at drug stores or online. You can also get a PCR test at a local healthcare facility or pharmacy.

Preventive COVID testing, even when you feel fine, can also provide peace of mind before holiday gatherings. Taking the time and making the effort to test before you visit with a senior loved one can really show them you care about their health.

Plan time for rest

Particularly for seniors who are traveling to be with friends and family for the holidays, visits can be fatiguing. A long car or airplane ride can be especially hard on older adults. Build time into your plans for rest and recuperation. This could be relaxing in front of the television or taking a quick nap before visitors arrive or you go for an outing. 

Too much commotion or activity immediately after travel can cause seniors to become stressed or irritable. Getting enough rest helps lower stress levels, which boosts the immune system and promotes good health. 

It’s important to plan time for rest after the return trip home, too.

Help older relatives stay active

Once your senior loved one is settled in, it can help them feel rejuvenated to do some light exercise. That is, as long as their health status allows for that.

Exercise is part of the foundation for good health, especially as we age. Even if the weather is too cold during the holiday season to be outside comfortably, that is no excuse not to fit in some movement. Indoor activities like stretching, walking in place or balance work are great ways for many seniors to stay in shape during the colder months.

Some seniors take regular trips to a local shopping mall to walk laps when it’s cold outside. This allows them to stay warm while keeping their muscles and joints healthy. There is also the added bonus of enjoying some window shopping in the process. 

Find out what your senior loved one does to stay active, and offer to help make that possible during your visit. Keep in mind if your activity will take you around large crowds that you may want to take extra precautions, like wearing a mask, to avoid exposure to illness.

Encourage healthy food choices

The holidays are typically a time of indulgence, including seasonal sweets and drinks. But overindulging can cause seniors discomfort such as heartburn, a blood sugar spike or bloating.  

It can help to know if a senior has any dietary restrictions, and to ask about their typical eating schedule. Are there ways you can help make holiday eating less disruptive to their regular routine?

For instance, can you eat an earlier dinner if that fits a senior’s routine better and might prevent them from getting hungry or overeating? If a senior typically avoids dairy, maybe you could have a dairy-free eggnog option. If people will be drinking alcoholic beverages, having a fun non-alcoholic beverage option might help reduce the temptation for a senior who doesn’t normally drink alcohol. 

Stay safe this winter!

Getting together with friends and family is one of the joys of the holiday season. At senior living communities, we often host parties for resident friends and families to encourage our residents to socialize and experience the merriment of the season.

Following CDC guidelines, such as getting vaccinated and wearing a mask when appropriate, will help keep you and your older relatives healthy as you celebrate the holidays. 

From our Sonida Senior Living family to yours, we wish you a season of merriment and joy, and good health as well!

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Ampoules with COVID-19 vaccine in a box to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Ampoules with COVID-19 vaccine in a box to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

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