Influenza & The Elderly

When it comes to influenza and the elderly, there seems to be a severe underdiagnosis. This can be explained by many things: elderly individuals might not show the typical ‘sniffles’ of the flu, causing health care providers to diagnose the affliction as something else. The virus could be missed altogether because the symptoms that arise are merely a worsening of a pre-existing medical condition. Or, an elderly individual could be naive to their own symptoms and not report their health.  

Regardless of cause, the result is the same: senior citizens are still being grossly underdiagnosed. A 2018 study conducted in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society has found that flu symptoms are drastically missed in older adults. In fact, “adults aged 65 and older hospitalized with fever or respiratory symptoms during influenza season are less likely to undergo a provider‐ordered influenza test than younger adults.”

With findings like this, it’s imperative that caregivers be knowledgeable of the signs and symptoms of influenza. Whether you are a family member or a home health aide, the following article will reveal the signs and symptoms of influenza in the elderly.

1. A Worsening of a Preexisting Condition

A major signifier of the flu is if a senior citizen has an increase in severity of a preexisting condition. This can manifest as a worsening of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiac arrest, etc.

2. Loss of Interest in Food

When a senior has a noticeable loss of appetite, this could be a sign that they have contracted influenza. The body requires fuel in the form of food to function: if this need is gone, it could be a signifier that your loved one’s body is abstaining from fuel, because it is currently fighting the virus.

3. Vertigo

Vertigo (or dizziness) is a major signifier of the flu. If your loved one feels as though they cannot stand without feeling dizzy, it may be time to get checked.

4. Weakness

Another sign is a general feeling of weakness. An example of this would be if a senior citizen finds that they do not have the energy to stand, move quickly, or do daily tasks.

5. Delirium

If your loved one begins exhibiting increased bouts of confusion, they may be suffering from delirium. This manifests as general confusion, or simply a decrease in mental functionality.