Every year, the flu season poses a great risk to health and safety. While other diseases may get more attention, the flu is a danger that should not be overlooked. The CDC publishes estimates of how many people get sick, how many are hospitalized, and how many die due to the flu each year.

While numbers vary widely, they are never low. In the past five years of data, the lowest estimate for death is still 22,000, with the highest being 61,000. For hospitalizations, the lowest number is 280,000 and the highest is 810,000.

Seniors Are at Greater Risk

Flu risk, however, is not evenly distributed across the population. As a person gets older, their vulnerability to the flu increases drastically. According to the CDC, in a typical flu season, approximately 50%-70% of all hospitalizations occur among those over the age of 65. For deaths, the numbers are worse still, with 90% of all deaths occurring among seniors. Older seniors are at even greater risk, with those 85+ being two to six times more likely to be hospitalized than those 65-74.

Clearly, keeping seniors safe from the flu is vitally important. Lives are in the balance. There are three essential things seniors need to do to minimize risk from the flu. It is important not only for seniors to be aware of these steps, but also for anyone responsible in any way for caring for a senior.

Prioritize Getting the Flu Shot

Far and away the best means for protecting a senior from the flu is the flu shot. The flu virus evolves quickly, which is why a new vaccine must be prepared every year. Getting the flu vaccine annually should be a no-brainer.

While the flu vaccine is the best way to reduce flu risk, it is not perfectly effective. How effective the shot is varies from year to year. According to the CDC, research shows the vaccine typically reduces risk for getting sick by 40% to 60%. But even when the vaccine doesn’t prevent the flu, that doesn’t mean it’s worthless. Data shows that vaccinated individuals who get sick have less serious cases of the disease.

It’s also best to get the flu shot early. There’s no reason for a senior to spend any amount of time unnecessarily unprotected from the flu, especially since it takes about two weeks for the flu shot to become effective. Getting the vaccine promptly can help keep others safe from the flu too, since vaccination makes spread of the disease less likely. That is why it is a good idea for younger people to get the vaccine as well, especially if they are going to spend any time around seniors.

Follow a Healthy Lifestyle

The flu vaccine is powerful, but does not offer even close to perfect protection. That means it’s important for seniors to remain in as good a health as possible. Besides further protection from the flu, healthy living reduces risk for other health problems, slows aging, and helps maintain quality of life.

Regular Exercise

Seniors should strengthen their immune system by regularly exercising. Since vitamin D is key to a strong immune system, getting outside in the sun is wise. Eating a nutritious diet emphasizing lean proteins, vegetables, and fruit while steering mostly clear of sugary and processed foods is also vital for making the immune system strong. Getting good sleep is important too.

Practice Good Hygiene

There are simple steps that every person, no matter their age, should take to stop the spread of germs. Avoiding people who are sick will greatly lower risk of getting the flu. In general, being careful around other people is wise. Seniors might want to refrain from shaking hands while flu season continues.

Washing hands regularly is essential to reducing risk of flu transmission.

Washing hands is especially important during and after being in places with lots of people, or after visiting the bathroom. Soap, hot water, and vigorous scrubbing are key. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are useful for situations when soap and water are not available.

Keeping hands away from the face is also crucial.

Most viruses enter the body through the nose, eyes, or mouth. Finally, disinfecting the surfaces in a senior’s living area is smart. The flu virus can stay alive for up to 24 hours on surfaces. The virus is often found on countertops, doorknobs, and light switches.

The flu is a dangerous disease.

While the flu might be something society has learned to live with, the fact this disease doesn’t make a lot of headlines doesn’t change the underlying danger. Keeping vulnerable seniors as safe as possible from the flu is a crucial, life-saving endeavor.