Senior Wellness: Tips to Stay Healthy This Winter

As we head into the wintertime, seniors need to be especially on alert regarding what they should and should not do to stay healthy and well. As has been the case during the past few years, a primary health focus this wintertime will again be on COVID. Coming up in strong second place is the need to pay attention to flu prevention. In this article, we present ten tips for senior health and wellness during the wintertime:

  • COVID seems milder – is it still a worry for seniors?
  • Should seniors get the new COVID booster?
  • Will seniors ever not need COVID boosters?
  • How can seniors help their immune systems naturally?
  • Beyond vaccinations, how else can seniors protect themselves from COVID?
  • With home testing, do we actually know the rate of COVID infection?
  • If a senior had COVID, is that person less likely to get it again?
  • Should a senior ask for antivirals after a positive COVID test?
  • Is flurona a real thing?
  • Can a senior get hit by severe cases of both COVID and the flu?

COVID Seems Milder – Is It Still a Worry for Seniors?

As of this writing, a majority of Americans have gotten COVID at least once. With that noted, the virus that causes it, SARS-CoV-2, continues to mutate and change. Thousands of people in the United States go to the hospital daily.

The bottom line is that no one knows precisely where COVID is headed, according to Panagis Galiatsatos, M.D., an assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He is predicting more cases as the weather cools in the wintertime. He indicates that there could be a potential wave of still another subvariant of the omicron variant.

Keep in mind that the immune system weakens with age. As a result, the effects of infections can be more significant, and recovery time can take longer. More than 75 percent of COVID deaths have involved women and men aged 65 and over. The fatality risk increases if a person has certain types of underlying medical conditions.

A prolonged recovery time coupled with the associated bed rest can put a senior at an increased risk of other complications. These include everything from muscle mass and strength loss to prolonged immobility and falls. These types of other complications can cause a downward spiral for a senior. This is true not only for COVID but also for the flu and even the common cold.
“Trying to fight your way back to where you were before can be a tremendous battle,” explained Magdalena Bednarczyk, M.D., section chief of geriatric medicine at Rush University Medical Center. “For a fit, younger adult, a common cold or the flu could be an inconvenience. For a frail older adult, it can literally knock them off their feet,” she said.

The bottom line is that COVID is still out there, it is still serious, and it is not alone.

Should Seniors Get the New COVID Booster?

Generally speaking, for an individual who is 65 years of age and older, being up to date on vaccinations significantly reduces the likelihood of heading to the hospital or becoming seriously ill. Unless a primary care physician directs otherwise, a senior should get a COVID booster shot.

The more recently introduced booster targets the most contagious of the omicron subvariants. This is also the right time of year to get a flu vaccine. Both vaccines can be received in one appointment for most people.

Will Seniors Ever Not Need COVID Boosters

There is not yet a definitive answer as to whether or not we will ever get away from needed COVID vaccinations and boosters. Right now, the most likely scenario is that COVID boosters will become an annual routine, rather like the flu shot.

How Can Seniors Help Their Immune Systems Naturally?

“There are no injections or vitamins that will produce a supercharged immune system,” says infectious disease expert Lawrence Livornese, M.D., chairman of the department of medicine at Main Line Health System. “Not smoking, not drinking excessively, exercising regularly, preventive immunizations, and following a healthy diet are your best bets.”

With this noted, a recent research study found our immune systems respond more vigorously to both COVID and flu vaccines if a person performs 90 minutes of light- to moderate-intensity exercise about 30 minutes after receiving the vaccine. There were no reported increases in side effects following this suggestion.

Beyond Vaccinations, How Else Can Seniors Protect Themselves From COVID?

There are a pair of recommendations from virologists to aid a senior in having additional COVID protection: rapid tests and well-fitting masks. Testing ahead of holiday gatherings and after exposure can help identify infection so that you don’t spread it to others. Many people are likely sick of masks. Nonetheless, wearing a tightly fitting one (N95, KN95, or KF94) if a person is planning on being out in public for an hour or two can be a wise course.

With Home Testing, Do We Actually Know the Rate of COVID Infection?

The increase in home testing is incorporated into the estimates of COVID infection numbers maintained by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to David Cennimo,​ M.D., associate professor of medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. The most accurate statistic that assists in tracking COVID infection is the hospitalization rate. If the hospitalization rate is rising in your region, COVID is on the rise as well. Hospitalizations spike in winter: The U.S. saw a peak of close to 155,000 people hospitalized in January 2022. The previous January, we hit nearly 135,000.

If a Senior Had COVID, Is That Person Likely to Get It Again?

Coming down with COVID once does not mean a senior (or anybody else) cannot get it again. “The virus changes enough over time that the immune response you develop against one version is enough to protect against serious illness but not from developing another infection,” explained Steven Lawrence, M.D., Washington University infectious disease specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Should a Senior Ask for Antivirals After a Positive COVID Test?

Yes, a senior should ask a primary care physician for antivirals after a positive COVID test.
“Early treatment with Paxlovid or Lagevrio [another antiviral] can keep individuals out of the hospital and minimize the risk of death,” says Thomas Tsai, M.D., senior policy adviser for the White House COVID-19 Response Team.

Is Flurona a Real Thing?

In a recent research study involving nearly 7,000 people with COVID in the United Kingdom, approximately 8 percent were sick with a second virus. Of those sick with another virus, about 50 percent of those individuals had the flu. Patients who had flurona were significantly more likely to require ventilation. They also were more likely to die in the hospital. These realities represent another reason to get both the flu vaccine and the COVID booster this year.

“The flu is a very serious illness in older people,” says Nina Blachman, M.D., geriatric medicine specialist and assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Health. One research study reported in The New England Journal of Medicine found that seniors are six times more likely to suffer a heart attack in the seven days after catching the flu.

Can a Senior Get Hit by Both Severe Cases of COVID and the Flu?

“Our immune systems are as unique as fingerprints,” Steven Lawrence, M.D., Washington University infectious disease specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, stated. Overall, in the absence of another medical condition that leaves a senior vulnerable to respiratory infections, your response to COVID does not predict how a person will handle the flu – and vice versa.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, a central health focus this winter will again be on COVID. Coming up in second place will be the need to pay attention to flu prevention. Being proactive in regard to both COVID and the flu is a wise course for seniors.