October 7, 2018 11:00 pm

What you need to know about the flu if you’re over 65

Getty Images

When Mike Leone, 81, began showing signs of the flu in November 2017, he and his family knew they had to take his sickness seriously.

Leone, who lives in Toronto, opted to rest and drink plenty of fluids, but he began to quickly deteriorate both physically and cognitively.

“When he first became ill, I thought a lower respiratory tract infection might be there but it wasn’t of great concern,” says Umberto Leone, Mike’s son who’s also a pharmacist.

Global News
Help us improve Globalnews.ca
Story continues below

“I thought maybe it was something that will pass but that we should see his physician just in case.”

His family decided to take him to the hospital for treatment. Leone had two chronic health conditions—Type 2 diabetes and an irregular heartbeat—and his family knew that contracting the illness could put him at risk for flu-related complications.

And it did. The once-active senior who walked regularly and joined programs at the senior centre with his wife, went into cardiovascular arrest shortly after being admitted to the emergency room. He was resuscitated and intubated three times and put on life support.

His complications from the flu didn’t end there.

Soon after, he entered acute renal failure and had to be continuously dialyzed. He became comatose-like, developed two bacterial pneumonias and sepsis. He needed a tracheostomy and later was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

In total, Leone spent a lengthy 48 days in the hospital’s intensive care unit and then another 45 days in the cardio respiratory medicine unit.

He didn’t return home until January.

Leone’s story illustrates quite clearly how complex and concerning the flu can be for seniors.

According to the Statistics Canada Population Projections for Canada (2013 to 2063) report, only 15 per cent of the Canadian population were comprised of adults over 65 in 2013.[i] But they accounted for 70 per cent of influenza-related hospitalizations and 91 per cent of influenza-related deaths between August and May of the 2014-2015 flu season.[ii]


The concern for seniors

There are a few reasons why seniors are more at risk for developing complications due to flu.

  • Frailty: Some seniors can be more fragile and it’s been shown that those who are frail are more likely to develop infections, notes Dr. William Dalziel, Professor of Geriatric Medicine, University of Ottawa.
  • Aging immune systems: As we age, our immune systems begin to deteriorate which makes it more difficult to fight off illnesses and infections, adds Dr. Dalziel.
  • Chronic disease complications: According to a 2008 study in the medical journal Vaccine, those over 65 are more likely to have a chronic disease. The flu can make these conditions worse. If you have chronic heart disease, for example, you’re five times more likely to die of the illness.[iii] [iv]

The flu increases the chances of developing other conditions such as asthma, ear and sinus infections, pneumonia, heart attacks and strokes. It can also create complications with kidney disease and diabetes.[v] The impact can even be long-term.

Leone continues to experience side effects from his flu experience. He can’t drive anymore and needs help from personal support workers at home. Umberto says his father will get the high-dose vaccine in the years to come.

“Did I ever think that the influenza virus would be able to do this to my father? While we learned all of this would be possible when I trained to become a pharmacist, to see it is a whole different ballgame,” he says. “To see your father on life support because of the flu is a whole different thing.”

Preventative Measures

While it’s important to pay attention to flu symptoms in seniors, taking measures to ensure you don’t contract the flu is just as critical.

This includes relying on healthy habits such as coughing into your sleeves, washing your hands more frequently and avoiding those who are sick.[vi]

A good course of action would be to ask your physician or pharmacist about FLUZONE High-Dose, the flu vaccine that is especially designed for seniors. This vaccine is 24 per cent more effective than the regular Fluzone vaccine.[vii]

Vaccines do not provide 100 per cent protection and do not treat influenza and/or its complications.

Know your symptoms

What does the flu look like? Here are the most common symptoms to watch for: [viii]

  • High fever (39°C and above)
  • Cough
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue or feeling tired
  • Sore throat
  • Runny/stuffy nose
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea/vomiting

Want to know more about FLUZONE and how it can help protect the senior in your life? Read more at http://www.fluhd.ca.


[i] Statistics Canada. (2013) Population Projections for Canada (2013 to 2063), Provinces and Territories (2013 to 2038): Section 2 – Results at the Canada level, 2013 to 2063. (Catalogue number 91-520-X). Retrieved June 12, 2017 from Statistics Canada: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/91-520-x/2014001/section02-eng.htm.

[ii] Government of Canada. FluWatch. May 3-9, 2015. Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/phac-aspc/images/services/publications/diseases-conditions/fluwatch-2014-2015/fluwatch-2014-2015-18-surveillance-influenza/alt/fluwatch-2014-2015-18-surveillance-influenza-eng.pdf

[iii] Schanzer DL, et al. Co-morbidities associated with influenza-attributed mortality, 1994-2000, Canada. Vaccine. 2008;26:4697-4703.

[iv] Schanzer DL, et al. Co-morbidities associated with influenza-attributed mortality, 1994-2000, Canada. Vaccine. 2008;26:4697-4703. NOT IN REFERENCE PACK

[v] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People at High Risk of Developing Serious Flu-Related Complications https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/high_risk.htm

[vi] Government of Canada. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/flu-influenza/prevention-flu-influenza.html.

[vii] National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI). Statement on Seasonal Influenza Vaccine for 2017-2018. July 2017 https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/canadian-immunization-guide-statement-seasonal-influenza-vaccine-2017-2018.html#adu.

[viii] Public Health Agency of Canada. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/influenza/influenza-undrstnd-eng.php#vaccines1.

Report an error


Comments closed.

Due to the sensitive and/or legal subject matter of some of the content on globalnews.ca, we reserve the ability to disable comments from time to time.

Please see our Commenting Policy for more.