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Top tips for preventing colds in seniors

Winter scene: Prevent colds in seniors

Today we have highly respected author and blogger Sally Cronin taking the guest post spot. She is an avid writer at Smorgasbord Blog Magazine, 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 prevent colds in seniors. Sally’s care tips come from her personal experiences taking care of her mom, and I thank her for the quality post.

Sally Cronin on ways to keep away colds in seniors

Sally Cronin blogs about elderly health care
Meet author and blogger Sally Cronin

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 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, in wintertime, 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.

Eat away colds in seniors: Focus on nutrient-rich foods, 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.

Preventing colds in seniors: 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 activities. 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 it’s important to remember that when caring for elderly family members. 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.

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 colds in seniors and any other age, influenza, and the nutrition to build the immune system function.

My thanks to Christy for inviting me to share these posts with you:

Winterising the Body – Immune system boosting eating and recovery plan.

A -Z of Common Conditions- Nothing more common than a cold!

Winterising your Body – Influenza the opportunistic pathogen.

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:

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine, Amazon, and Twitter

Let's read
Collection of Books by Sally Cronin. Inspiring!

Thank you Sally for being here to guest post on ways to keep colds in seniors at bay.

54 thoughts on “Top tips for preventing colds in seniors”

  1. Excellent, excellent article. These nutritional meals, and the advice to watch germy hugs and get fresh air, are something everyone should follow! I’m thinking of adding the whiskey to my routine. :-) Seriously, what a wonderful caretaker/daughter you were for your mom, Sally, No surprise.

  2. Hi Christy and Sally.
    Christy thanks for hosting Sally with this important topic. It’s hard to believe that it is already “cold and flu” time of year again. But it’s good advice for young and old alike. Be well, be happy my friends. Hugs.

  3. Yay! Such a treat to find Sally here sharing her wisdom. All important tips here. And so true, if diet is poor and not enough body weight can certainly make it much more difficult to fight off illness and germs. <3 Fantastic post as always from Sally. xx

  4. Great post from Sally Christie and one we can all take a few tips from, now cold and flu season is here – even when you’re fit there is nothing more debilitating than a cold. (Especially if you are a fella… because it is a scientific fact we DO suffer more) As Sally says, lack of activity and even the short days contribute to a weakened immune system allowing trivial things to take hold. A timely call to action for all ages!

  5. Sally, I wonder how you feel about the new ideas about preschoolers and nursing home residents sharing time together. For instance, sometimes there is a daycare inside a nursing home. I love the idea from the social perspective, for both age groups, but shudder at the germs coming into the nursing home!!!!

    1. I think it is a great idea Luanne but only if the elderly are well looked after and still active. Not sure more than an hour at a time would be beneficial but I would certainly be making sure that hands were washed on both sides frequently.. And to be honest if the elderly were wearing lightweight cotton gloves that might help.. But as you say great interaction.. I think I prefer the study in Holland I think where university students live in as a hall of residence and interact with the residents.. Much more mentally stimulating.. hugs

    2. Yes, I think that is the best idea of all. It’s very cool. Apparently there was a young person who lived where my mother lives and she got free rent in exchange for playing her musical instrument in little concerts for the residents. They are pretty sophisticated people–most with college degrees–so I doubt they would get enough stimulation from the kids. In fact, they like lectures, etc.

  6. Lots of lovely information here, Sally and Christy. Thank you for sharing. Thankfully we are going into summer but there still seem to be lots of colds and gastro bugs lurking in Johannesburg. I will try some of this with Granny Toots (96) and my Mom (79).

    1. Thanks Robbie and I am afraid with air travel what is a winter bug in one hemisphere becomes the summer flu in another. And as Madelyn pointed out it is the everyday things that we do such as pushing the shopping trolley that brings us into contact, not with just one set of hands but hundreds.. not all with the same pathogens. The Queen wears gloves for a reason! hugs xxx

  7. Great information here, Sally. Thank you so much. I plan to share it with my cousin. Her 92 year-old mother never gets a breath of outside air, despite the hints I drop about the benefits.

    1. Glad you found useful Jill and it is difficult at that age to encourage a very elderly out of the house. Fear is the main issue. Of falling, too many people, not being close to a loo and not being in control. I hope something can be worked out even if it is only to sit outside a front door in a comfy chair in some sunshine watching the world go by.. with someone sitting beside her. best wishes Sally

  8. Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC

    LOVE seeing one of my favorite bloggers on the blog of another! Thanks, Sally, for a lot of wonderful advice (and not just for the elderly!) Thanks to BOTH of you for sharing here.

    Another place important to use those antiseptic wipes for many of us who are younger and shopping regularly is on the handles of those grocery carts (also in places where we are shopping for items of another type) – and to wash our hands immediately upon returning from our shopping trips, doing our best to remember not to touch our faces until we do. Germs transfer more from surface to surface contact than in the air (where they die off faster for some reason).

    I have noticed a clear reduction in the sniffles since I developed that habit — along with tossing tissues immediately rather than using them more than once because they seem okay to use again.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie)

    1. Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC

      Didn’t know about the extract. I’ll look for it. Thanks Sally.
      xx, mgh

    2. You are absolutely right, Madelyn. I have an absolute horror of shopping cart handles and also the railings on stairs and escalators. My mom has a compromised immunity because she had cancer and we carry hand sanitisor and disinfecting wipes around with us and use them all the time. Not so good for Mr Gregory with his OCD but better for my Mom.

    3. Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC

      WOW, Robbie. For you Mom this could be essential. What does Gregory say about it?

  9. Thank you, Sally! I dare your mom to call this post a fib! LOL! 95… wow! I’m studying her diet. I don’t drink whiskey, but a glass of wine (no water) would suit me fine, at dinner time. This is a very wonderful article.

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