Flu season, 2020, portends to be a very interesting time for our world, our nation, and especially for nursing and retirement homes. The COVID-19 pandemic is not even in the rearview mirror and the annual year-end influenza season is approaching us head-on. Some may be tempted to think that, with all the pandemic precautions we’ve taken, the flu has no chance of getting through our defenses. We must remember, that’s was what we thought at first about COVID-19. This is particularly urgent this year in regard to older adult facilities. So, let’s take a look at how retirement and nursing homes need to prepare for the coming flu season.
Each year the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issues guidelines intended to help citizens prepare for the upcoming influenza season. A particular emphasis of these guidelines is the older adult population and especially those groupings of seniors who live in close proximity to one another in retirement centers and nursing homes. A higher percentage of these individuals have underlying health conditions that would make it difficult for them to successfully recover from the flu. This is so much the case that the CDC classifies those 65 and older as an at-risk group.
The first step in preparing an older adult assisted living center for flu season is for the management and healthcare providers of these residences to read and understand the annual CDC guidelines, which do change from year-to-year. By way of preparation for the 2020-21 influenza season, the CDC offers three particular tips for older adult communities:
- Flu vaccinations for the entire staff and all residents before the end of October; some residents may have health complications that mitigate against the flu vaccine but, apart from this there should be no exceptions to the vaccination policy
- Healthcare personnel should go over flu prevention, recognition, and treatment protocols with the entire staff of the center
- Throughout flu season, center personnel should have as its priority the surveillance of residents for any sign of flu symptoms
The CDC recommendations go in-depth about how to treat potential flu sufferers. For the purposes of this article, however, we want just to focus on the prevention aspect.
There is a fair bit of overlap between preparing for flu season and the COVID-19 prevention regimen we have been enduring. It pays to reemphasize these precautionary steps, however. If a home’s population and those who work there successfully avoided a Coronavirus outbreak, everyone may assume they have nothing to fear from regular old flu—and nothing could be further from the truth. Here is a brief checklist of prevention activities to use in refreshing the personnel of a facility about preventing influenza infections:
- Keep the environment clean. Regular disinfection of frequently used surfaces is essential.
- Sanitize your mobile devices. The average smartphone user checks the phone 96 times daily. An unclean cellphone can be a vortex for flu germs.
- If you feel sick, stay home. Stay in touch with your supervisors at the residential facility to help with contact tracing should your illness turn out to be the flu.
- Guard your own health: engage in moderate exercise; drink plenty of fluids; maintain a regular rest schedule; avoid excesses that tip the balance of your health.
- When working with residents especially, wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Asking older adults to participate in guarding their senior health is something we should be able to expect from the oldest and wisest among us. We certainly do at Heidi’s Haven Homes. Still, reminding seniors to wash their hands is important. Without constant reminders, such details can slip anyone’s mind, regardless of a person’s age.
One preparedness ritual we’ve found exceedingly affective and useful in our residential centers is simply reminding folks about the seriousness and prevalence of the flu. Depending on the annual conditions and the various mutations of the flu, up to 45 million Americas can get the flu every year. That’s 40 times as many people as having officially been diagnosed with COVID-19. Upwards of 50,000 people in the US die each year because of influenza. Sharing these truths with our residents helps us all to take the flu seriously.
Though the Coronavirus still persists in our nation to this day, we have to recognize that another, more familiar illness is returning this autumn as well. It’s our hope at Heidi’s Haven Homes that everyone practices these health safeguards this autumn and winter so we can all enjoy the beauty of the coming spring.