Our immune systems weaken as we age, therefore the elderly are more susceptible to viruses and have a harder time fighting it off. Certain infections are important risk factors for the elderly because the illnesses they cause reduce the quality of life during the infection and are at times fatal.

Someone with a weakened immune system, especially the elderly, often develop pneumonia when getting the flu or other flu-like viruses. “All of us carry bacteria in our throats and noses,” explains Dr. William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation on Infectious Disease and chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “Frail elders often can’t clear secretions from their lungs, and those secretions tend to go down into the bronchial tubes. The area fills with pus, mucous, and other liquids, preventing the lungs from functioning properly. This means oxygen cannot reach the blood and the cells of the body. People living with Alzheimer’s disease are also at a higher risk for developing pneumonia.

Taking good care of your health is essential for preventing any serious respiratory infection. This preventative measure is useful for people of any age. Older adults, however, are especially vulnerable due to an already compromised and weakened immune system as a result of aging. Here are some helpful ways to keep elderly loved ones safe from the illness:

Maintain good health

A key to preventing viruses is keeping the immune system strong so that it can fight off infections. Increase their intake of fruit and vegetables especially those high in Vitamin C. Citrus fruits such as orange, kiwi, lemon, guava, grapefruit, and vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and capsicums are rich, natural sources of vitamin C. Other vitamin C-rich fruits include papaya, cantaloupe and strawberries. Staying active and getting plenty of physical exercise can have a positive effect on the immune system as well.

Vitamins and minerals

Getting the right vitamins and minerals needed to boost health is crucial, especially if it’s lacking from a poor diet. Important vitamins for the immune system include vitamin C, vitamin B6, and vitamin E. But as with any medication or supplement, please speak to a healthcare professional for advice.

Limit public interactions

If there is an outbreak of a virus or if it’s flu season, the elderly should limit their interactions with other people unless completely necessary. Because certain viruses can be dormant for weeks, people may be infected and not even realise it. Therefore avoid public places and large gatherings. Exercising caution is one of the best preventative measures against infectious viruses. Arrange for a meal delivery service or groceries to be delivered to your loved one to help prevent them from leaving the house.

Basic hygiene

It goes without saying but basic hygiene is still the most important way to stay safe. Purchase alcohol-based hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial wet wipes not only for yourself and your loved ones but for caregivers too. Remind them to regularly wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and disinfect surfaces because certain viruses can live on surfaces for a few hours. Avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth. Our hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses easily. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to the eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and can make you sick. Encourage the people around you (especially caregivers) to follow good respiratory hygiene. This means covering their mouth and nose with their bent elbow or tissue when they cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately.

These are just some basic ways to prevent being infected. If your loved one is living with dementia, then it is important to keep their hands clean when you decide to take them out. If you or your loved one develops fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical advice promptly as this may be due to a respiratory infection or other serious conditions. Call your doctor or emergency room in advance to let them know you are coming in.

As with any medical advice, please consult a medical professional first.