Healthy Aging

healthy aging

New Strategy to Avoid the Flu This Season

New Strategy to Avoid the Flu This Season

As we age, we enter the risk group that seasonal influenza targets.  The older we are the more vulnerable we are to the flu.  This is why it is important to take measures to prevent the flu to stay healthy as we age.  Remember that 30,000 people a year die from the flu in this country.  Many of the deaths are in other high risk groups, but anyone over 50 begins to have each year a greater susceptibility to the annual flu season that begins in late fall.  Thus it is particularly important to our readers that we understand and do everything possible to mitigate this viral infectious diseases – that is preventable.    

Spread and Prevention of Influenza

Influenza is a virus that is highly transmissible – meaning that it is very easy for one human to spread it to another.  The form of transmission of the virus that causes either seasonal or swine flu is that the virus from someone infected enters your body through the nose, eyes, and mouth.  Understanding this simple fact makes prevention clear.  You must stay away from and not contact anyone known to be sick with the flu.  Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs.  If you do contract the flu – stay home, do not sneeze or cough into anyone else’s space (within 3 feet), do not shake hands or otherwise touch or contact anyone not infected. 
Another important way to prevent the flu and a method highly recommended to those interested in healthy aging is to be immunized.  Flu shots are the routinely available in late fall and early winter for immunization.  They are usually effective in preventing the flu, but a major problem is people just do not get their flu shot.  Whether this is intentional or forgetfulness, it is an unfortunate problem that leads to disability and illness as well as the potential spread to others.  If you are over 65, it is important that you contact your doctor about when is the best time to get your immunization.

New Strategy Proven Effective

Having written the above, hopefully, you have decided that you will get a flu shot this year – even if you never have done it before and you didn’t get the flu.  This could be your year!  And the good news is research funded by the National Institute of Aging has proven that there is a strategy that increases flu immunizations.  The evidence comes from a large (over 3,000) study of employed people over 50 or with chronic diseases that predispose to flu susceptibility who were randomly placed in one of three groups.  All groups were informed by mail of dates for free flu immunizations, one group in the mailing was asked to remind themselves of a date, and the third group was asked to assign a date, place and time to get their shot.  Turns out that the group that wrote down the date, place and time had a significantly higher rate of immunization.

What Should You Do to Prevent the Flu

From the evidence in the paper, I have a simple suggestion.  Since you know that the flu season is not far off, there is a strategy that you can use to “nudge” yourself to get the preventive immunization – a flu shot.

  • Pick a date (like your birthday, if it is in the late fall) or early December (if you don’t have a fall birthday).
  • Put the date and a specific time of day on a reminder calendar that you have for appointments.
  • On the date and at the time either go to a drug store and get the flu shot or call your physician to schedule one in the office.

It has been proven in multiple scientific studies including this most recent one that we humans are more likely to do things if we make specific plans than if we figure we will get around to it.  Try it – you will get your immunization this year on time and have a flu-less season.   

Flu shot

Health Information Library: Influenza (Flu)

Animation: Influenza (Flu)

Podcast: Influenza: Signs, Symptoms & Self Care

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