Today we have highly respected author and blogger Sally Cronin taking the guest post spot. She is an avid writer at Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life, where she blogs about health, writing, and promotional features for authors. It is with great pleasure that I give her the floor today to talk about elderly health care – specifically how to keep colds far, far away from older loved ones. Sally’s care tips come from her personal experiences taking care of her mom, and I thank her for the quality post.
My thanks to Christy for inviting me to write a post on the health challenges that face the elderly as we move into the winter months.
In most of our countries there is some form of elderly care system in place, either in a person’s own home or care facility. However, wherever an elderly person might live, apart from a natural reduction in immune system efficiency, at this time of year, there are many more opportunities for pathogens to take advantage of a weakened host.
I looked after my mother full-time for four years until she died at age 95. She loved visitors and there would be a lot of hugging and kissing of cheeks with people sitting to chat and holding her hand. It was great for her morale and the subject of much discussion long after they left. But unfortunately, sometimes they left more than their kindness behind. That first winter, my mother had two colds and a respiratory infection that lingered for weeks.
Christmas was the biggest challenge as she wanted to go to the church gift fair, the pensioners’ lunch and the coffee mornings. Although there were many of her old friends there, she was also greeted by strangers wanting to shake her hand and spend time talking to her. As with any event where there are a great many people, some around her were coughing and spluttering; inevitably she would be under the weather within three days.
After that first year, I knew that we needed to put some safeguards in place. It is difficult to build an elderly person’s immune system back up when their appetites are not as great as they used to be. Some may also have certain food restrictions due to dentures or other dental issues that make eating difficult.
However, it is important to make sure that any food they do eat is nutrient rich and full of anti-oxidants.
It is better to provide six small meals a day rather than one or two larger ones that might go unfinished. It is also easier for an older person’s digestive system if they eat smaller but high nutritional density meals, and this is how I worked with my mother to improve her immune function.
She enjoyed the same breakfast for years but I moved her from white bread to wholegrain, with some butter and marmalade and a glass of orange juice with a cup of coffee (She hated tea with a vengeance!). She would also sometimes enjoy a small bowl of porridge with warm milk and honey.
Mid-morning – another coffee and a piece of soft fruit.
My mother enjoyed a whisky and water before lunch everyday for at least 60 years, and considering she lived until she was 95, I don’t think it did her any harm! And I would not deny the claims that it is medicinal!
Lunch would usually consist of Salmon, chicken, lamb, pork, cod, turkey or beef – cooked so soft and easy to chew. Carrots, wholegrain rice (large tablespoon) broccoli or Brussel Sprouts, or other green vegetables. Some mashed vegetable options such as carrots and parsnips, or swede. She did not like potatoes but could be persuaded to have some if I bought fish and chips every couple of weeks.
For dessert she would have either yoghurt with blueberries, strawberries, stewed apple or rhubarb. Sometimes for a change she would enjoy jelly and custard or rice pudding with stewed fruit. She also enjoyed ice-cream and that would be topped with peaches but her favourite was tinned soft pears in juice with a spoonful of hot chocolate sauce!
Mid-afternoon – glass of cranberry juice or a piece of fruit.
Supper was varied according to what my mother fancied, but usually homemade vegetable or chicken soup with an egg sandwich, or scrambled egg on toast, tuna or chicken sandwich. She enjoyed smoked salmon sandwiches, and also she took rather a liking to bacon sandwiches toasted one side of the bread with mayonnaise . (It can take some time to find foods that they might not have eaten for a while and introduce them, but the more variety the better).
Before bed a cup of cocoa made with skimmed milk.
Dehydration in the elderly is a particular problem, which will impact the immune system function quite rapidly and lead to urinary tract infections. This is especially the case when they are sitting all day in a centrally heated environment without access to fresh air.
I gave my mother a 500ml bottle of water with a little cranberry concentrate on her table by her chair, and she was encouraged to drink through the day in addition to her coffees and juice. I used to top the bottle up from time to time when she would vacate her chair for a while, and she barely noticed that she was drinking more.
Some physical safeguards.
I am afraid I imposed a kissing and hugging ban for visitors to the house, except for family members between October and May initially and then permanently. My mother quite enjoyed telling people that she could not accept their advances! When we went out to an event, she was very good about keeping people at a distance, and like the Queen she wore lightweight cotton gloves when shaking hands.
I would wipe these off when we got home with antiseptic wipes, and there was a bottle of antiseptic hand wash by her chair for use when expecting visitors. I also introduced my mother to tea tree soap, which she used several times a day to wash her hands.
Outside contact and visitors are very important for mental and emotional health and it is tough to limit these. However, if you can work visits in around the daily routine so that it is not too disrupted, it is physically healthier.
Anyone who was planning to visit my mother was asked to call first, and instead of just dropping in at meal times, or when my mother was having her afternoon nap, they would come at a specific time and only stayed 30 minutes or so. The elderly get tired very quickly. and whilst they love having visitors, it can become very stressful for them, especially when there are toddlers and young children running around.
I would ask visitors on the phone if they had a cold, or had been in contact with anyone in their family who had one. You will be surprised how many thought it was okay to come to see a 92 year old whilst in the middle of a cold or flu infection.
My mother did have the flu jab at the beginning of the season and with the improved diet and the precautions. she didn’t get another cold or the flu for the remainder of her life.
So if you are looking after elderly relatives at home, or you have some responsibility for their care, it is perhaps a good idea to review your cold and flu precautions for them as we go into the winter months. And pay particular attention over Christmas and the New Year, when either they will have many more visitors, or they will be taken to large family events where they will come into contact with a large number of well-meaning, but hands on admirers.
Fresh air: The wonder drug.
It is very important, despite the colder weather, to try and get elderly people outside into the fresh air on a bright, sunny day. Despite my mother’s reluctance at first, a wheelchair that folded into the back of my car, and a warm fleecy blanket, opened up a great many more opportunities, and we would enjoy sitting along the seafront with a flask of coffee watching the world go by. People would stop to chat, and dogs would come asking for attention, and half an hour of this combination of nature and interaction, are some of the best precautionary measures against illness you can find.
I have a series of posts on the common cold, influenza and the nutrition to build the immune system function for all ages.
My thanks to Christy for inviting me to share these posts with you:
About Sally Cronin
I have been a storyteller most of my life (my mother called them fibs!). Poetry, song lyrics and short stories were left behind when work and life intruded, but that all changed in 1996. My first book Size Matters was a health and weight loss book based on my own experiences of losing 70kilo. I have written another ten books since then on health and also fiction including three collections of short stories. I am an indie author and proud to be one. My greatest pleasure comes from those readers who enjoy my take on health, characters and twisted endings… and of course come back for more.
Connect with Sally Cronin at: