Flu season is almost here and if you’re older than 65, take heed

The immune system weakens with age, which makes it harder to fight disease. As a result, adults 65 years of age and older are more likely to catch the flu and experience complications.

This age group typically accounts for more than half (about 60 percent) of flu-related hospitalizations and almost all (90 percent) of flu-related deaths.

In fact, influenza and pneumonia combined are the seventh leading cause of death in adults 65 years of age and older in the United States.

The flu can make existing health problems worse and is especially dangerous for people with chronic health conditions, like heart disease and diabetes.

People with these conditions are more likely to develop complications from the flu that can result in hospitalization and even death.

Chronic health conditions commonly affect older adults: 86 percent of adults 65 years of age and older have at least one chronic condition, and 68 percent have two or more.

Among adults 65 years of age and older, roughly 20 percent have diabetes, and about 30 percent have heart disease.

Adults 65 years of age and older should get vaccinated as early as possible.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the single best way to help prevent the flu is to get an annual flu shot, which is recommended for everyone six months of age and older, with rare exception.

In fact, it is estimated that during the 2013-2014 flu season, nearly 50,000 hospitalizations were averted due to vaccination in those 65 years of age and older.

For older adults, it is especially critical to get vaccinated early in the season, which has been shown to be associated with greater benefit compared to later in the season.

Talk to your health care provider about your flu vaccine options.

Older adults have flu vaccine options – including the regular flu shot and a higher-dose vaccine developed specifically to address the age-related weakening of the immune system – both of which are widely available at a doctor’s office or local pharmacy.

Flu vaccination is a Medicare benefit, with no copay, for adults 65 years of age and older who are Medicare beneficiaries.

To view, download, print, or share useful information about the flu and seniors, visit Flu Resources webpage. Flu + You is an educational program from the National Council on Aging and Sanofi Pasteur.