Every Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or Parents’ Day, you can’t help but feel the irresistible urge to express your love and appreciation for everything your parents have done for you. After all, they are old now and it’s your turn to care for them. It is gratifying when they welcome your effort. But, sometimes, they might have certain ideas of their own. Like when it comes to getting them vaccinated against influenza (the flu).
You have come to realise that older folks are at high risk of getting severe influenza. You are terrified at how the disease can result in hospitalisation, serious complications (affecting the lungs, heart, kidneys, brain), or even death.
You worry for your parents. So, you suggest they get vaccinated against the flu. But you are met with a host of excuses why they don’t need it. Based on research, here’s what your parents (and other old folks) are likely to say:
- “Flu is not dangerous; it is just inconvenient.”
- “If we catch the flu, we just need to see the doctor.”
- “We don’t need vaccination because we are active and independent.”
- “Other people might die from flu because they are weak. But not us.”
- “Vaccination can cause bad side-effects.”
These views are downright false and dangerous because they create a false sense of security. As another study found, the main problem is that many people don’t realise that they are at high risk of flu, despite being over 65 years old and/or having chronic diseases that could be turned into an acute medical emergency during a flu infection.
If you need help convincing your elderly parents to get vaccinated against the flu, try telling them the following facts:
- The immune system declines with age. This increases their tendency to catch the flu while decreasing their ability to fight it off.
- Flu affects older people more severely. They account for 10 to 30 times more hospitalisations than younger patients, annually. The average length of a hospital stay due to influenza increases from 5.8 days for those between the ages of 5 and 49, to over 8 days for those older than 65.
- Flu-related mortality is high among the elderly . Approximately 90% of all influenza-related deaths occur among those over age 65, especially those with pre-existing chronic diseases and immunological disorders. Individuals older than 85 years of age are 16 times more likely to die of influenza-related illness and 32 times more likely to die of influenza-associated pneumonia than those between 65 and 69 years of age.
- Influenza vaccination helps protect those aged 65 or older. Vaccination has been shown to reduce influenza-like illness by 35%, reduce hospitalisation for pneumonia and influenza by 33%, reduce mortality following hospitalisation for pneumonia and influenza by 47%, and reduce mortality from all causes by 50%.
- Influenza vaccination also benefits elderly nursing home residents. Vaccination is associated with a 50% reduction in hospitalisation and a 68% reduction in deaths during influenza seasons.
- Influenza vaccination is important to those who are old and frail. It can be challenging to know when such individuals are suffering from the flu. This is because the signs may be confused by other health issues (eg anorexia, mental status changes, cardiovascular diseases, or lung conditions). Furthermore, common flu symptoms (eg fever, sore throat or body aches) may be less severe or absent in some cases.
When talking to your parents, please also speak from the heart. Besides relaying the above facts, help them understand that you want them to stay well and avoid needless suffering due to the flu. They will appreciate knowing how much you care.
Growing old is about maintaining quality of life. So, if you’re looking for a meaningful gift for your parents, consider the gift of protection with influenza vaccination. This loving act may go a long way in helping them achieve their own aspirations and make the most of their remaining years.
Article courtesy of the Immunise4Life programme by Ministry of Health Malaysia, Malaysian Paediatric Association & Malaysian Society of Infectious Diseases & Chemotherapy, supported by Sanofi Pasteur. Learn more at https://immunise4life.my/beattheflu/ or www.ifl.my/btf
Flu Symptoms & Complications | CDC. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/consumer/symptoms.htm
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