9 tips for caregivers and family members to fight the flu

Sydney Nye
Sydney Nye

“C'mon kids, let's get ready to visit Grandma.” All grandparents welcome a visit from their family, especially grandkids. Nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities encourage these visits for their residents and often have special activities to support these memorable moments. 

What can derail these happy get-togethers, however, is the cold and flu season. Adults over 65 years old are more vulnerable to develop a cold or the flu. Experts say 90% of flu-related deaths and more than half of flu-related hospitalizations occur in those over the age of 65.

This particular population is also more susceptible to developing pneumonia from a cold or flu virus. People with a weak immune system or chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and emphysema, are also prone to developing pneumonia and flu. 

And that's why healthcare workers, caregivers and clinicians need to focus on protection measures.

Normally, a flu vaccine is a great prevention strategy, but experts say this year's vaccine is only 23% effective. This is an immediate concern for those who care for the elderly. To make matters worse, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says flu-related hospitalizations of the elderly are the highest since the government started tracking that statistic nine years ago. Despite the new findings, the CDC continues to recommend being vaccinated against both the flu and pneumococcal pneumonia, especially for the following people: 

• Anyone 65 years old or older

• Anyone with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or a compromised immune system

• Anyone with breathing conditions, like emphysema

This year, a number of healthcare facilities have instituted lockdowns or severe restrictions on visitation. Restriction methods can be effective to help reduce the spread of cold and flu for your residents, when used with some easy protection tips.

1. Teach family and friends to use the phone or the computer to visit with their loved one when they are not feeling the best. Some of your residents may be tech-savvy and would like to Skype with their family and friends. Facilities may consider having a “rolling Skype cart” so the “visit” can be in their room, offering a more interactive and fulfilling “visit.” 

2. Teach your healthcare staff tips to stay healthy. This includes diligent hand hygiene and wearing the proper antiviral mask like Biomask when caring for those who might have a cold and flu. It's also a good idea to encourage them to stay home if they themselves are sick.

3. Teach your residents to:

a. Dispose of their facial tissue in the garbage and not on the tables or their pockets. Remind them to wash their hands or use a hand sanitizer after sneezing or coughing, and also after using facial tissues. 

b. Cough into their sleeve, not their hand. Consider using some type of game or contest to encourage your residents the proper containment for coughing. 

c. Reduce or avoid touching their face, mouth or eyes. Germs are easily passed from the hands into the body through contact with the face, mouth and eyes. 

4. Make hand sanitizer, such as Sterillium Comfort Gel, accessible at nursing stations, dining areas, resident rooms and in several high-traffic spots. The product kills 99.999% of germs in 15 seconds without water, and is effective against a broad range of pathogens.

5. In addition to healthcare workers, antiviral masks can help residents, family and friends too. The mask, also available to consumers at many retailers as the CURAD antiviral facemask, is the industry's first antiviral face mask. It uses three powerful yet safe active ingredients — zinc, copper and citric acid — to inactivate 99.99% of 15 different laboratory-tested subtypes of Influenza A and B, including both seasonal H3N2 and pandemic H1N1. It is the first-ever facemask that actually inactivates flu viruses upon five minutes of contact, helping protect the wearer against flu viruses.

6. Consider making germicidal wipes available in the resident rooms, nursing stations, dining room and common visitation areas for quick access by healthcare workers, residents, family and friends. 

7. Wipe down all surfaces with a germicidal solution or a cloth impregnated with a germicidal preparation. People can transmit germs through contact, sneezing and breathing. Droplets can land on surfaces sometimes up to six feet away from the source. Help reduce the spread of germs with products like Micro-Kill One wipes, which can be used on countertops, wheelchairs, cane handles, door knobs, TV remotes, light switches and tables. These wipes can kill certain infectious microorganisms including Influenza A2, within one minute.

8. As much as possible, review containment plans and distance residents with symptoms from others to help reduce their exposure to others.  People with the cold and flu can spread it to others, up to six feet away, according to the CDC.

9. Remember to always follow hand hygiene compliance standards.

“C'mon kids, let's turn on the computer and visit with Grandma” may be a safe, enjoyable way to arrange visits with loved ones during this cold and flu season. And using good protection measures can help guard against sharing germs with others, helping all of us stay well to avoid the dreaded effects of the cold and flu. 

Sydney Nye, MBA, BSN, RN, is Director, Marketing with Medline Industries. 

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