The onset of winter, with its cold temperatures and dangerous snow and ice, can make life more difficult for generally anyone, but this can especially be the case for seniors.
Age makes the body more susceptible to injury from falling in the hazardous outdoor conditions, and seniors also risk contracting an illness from the spreading of germs. For residents of assisted living communities, there are a variety of ways they can maintain their health and remain sickness-free during the trials of cold and flu season.
Clean hands and avoid germs
One of the easiest, most effective way seniors can stop the spread of germs and protect themselves from illness is by keeping their hands clean. It's impossible to keep your hands completely free of bacteria for longer than a five-minute period, as some bacteria exist on generally everything. However, frequently washing your hands for 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer is a sure-fire way to avoid the spread of the bacteria that can cause illnesses.
In addition to killing germs found on the hands via disinfection, it's important that when you sneeze or cough, you refrain from doing so into your hands. This can contaminate anything you touch afterward. Use a tissue to cover your nose when coughing and sneezing, or use the crook of your elbow or the top of your sleeve.
It's important to be aware of touching certain objects in public spaces that have a tendency to carry large amounts of bacteria. These things include door handles, stair railings, light switches, elevator buttons, tables and chairs. An action as seemingly harmless as shaking someone's hand or borrowing an item from them can also lead to the spread of germs.
It's also important to try and avoid touching your face and the faces of others as much as possible. Bacteria can thrive in places like the nose, eyes and mouth, and the less those areas are touched, the lower the risk of contracting or spreading illness.
Physical activity has been proven to boost immune function by increasing the circulation of sickness-fighting antibodies and white blood cells through the blood, according to Medicine Plus. When this occurs, white blood cells can detect harmful bacteria more quickly and rid the body of the parasites.
Exercise can also help flush bacteria from the lungs, which is especially beneficial for preventing or reversing respiratory infections like the common cold. Some bacteria thrive in cooler environments and when the temperature of their hosts are lower. Raising one's body temperature has also been found to prevent bacteria from growing, which can slow or stop the contraction of an illness.
Get vitamin D
Vitamin D is critical to the health of the immune system. However, for many people, this nutrient that is typically absorbed when soaking in the sun is in short supply during the winter because of the cold outdoor temperatures. A lack of vitamin D can greatly increase a senior's risk of getting sick.
An effective way seniors can get adequate vitamin D is by regularly taking a dietary supplement.
Manage food intake
Similar to the effects of vitamin D, vitamin C is also known to bolster immune system health. During the winter months, seniors should try to eat as many foods rich in vitamin C as possible to help protect their health. Some of these foods include oranges, kiwi, strawberries, bell peppers, tomatoes, kale and broccoli, among many others.
Not all bacteria encountered during this time of year is harmful. In fact, probiotics are a type of bacteria that the human body can use to help fight the harmful kinds of bacteria that cause sickness. Seniors should introduce probiotics into their diets to help fortify their immune defenses. Probiotics can be found in many types of yogurt manufactured today and also in various supplement options.
Seniors should also be very careful when eating from a buffet-style spread of any kind where utensils are being shared and food is placed out in the open. People can accidently spread germs very easily in these types of situations through contaminating the food or eating instruments.
Get check-ups and vaccinations
Getting regular check-ups and health exams is one way to preemptively stop illness before it can take hold. Seniors should also ensure that their vaccinations are up to date and that they schedule periodic visits with their doctors, especially if they aren't feeling well.
As we age, our immune systems weaken and our ability to fight harmful viruses and bacteria is lessened. Illnesses in seniors can take longer to combat and can sometimes lead to hospitalizations if not combated diligently. Residents of senior living communities have a variety of ways to keep sicknesses of cold and flu season at bay, for the sake of themselves and their fellow residents.