Do this one thing to help a grandparent

September is my January. Back to school season is my cue to get all those important, but not urgent things done. Something that can be done at any time often gets done at no time. This is why I calendar backing up my computer, organizing our summer vacation pictures (likely last year’s Christmas ones, too!) and getting our annual flu shot.

flu shot
I don’t wait until November or December to get my flu shot. I beat the crowds and get ‘er done each October. (Photo credit: Mark Eleven Photography)
This post is sponsored by Sanofi Pasteur

One thing I know from experience is that influenza is so much more than a bad cold – and this is especially true for older adults like my mom. Unfortunately, recent data coming out of Australia (they’ve just finished their winter) shows that this year’s flu season is likely to be a bad one.

Before I had my daughter, I wasn’t proactive about getting vaccinations unless I was travelling. When my mom suddenly went from Stage I to Stage 4 cancer between her 6-month checkups (still wracking my head as to how that happens) it changed everything.

You know that saying, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone? It’s darkly true. When a close friend or relative becomes ill, it makes you realize how the sum of seemingly small actions really can affect your life.

This became abundantly clear when my sister and I took my mom to Paris. I was living in London at the time and mom was an active 69-year-old. The long flight across the Atlantic was no problem, even though she checked the bag with her pain medication.

We spent three blissful days in London, going to afternoon tea and taking my daughter to the park, where we’d picnic under boughs of cherry blossoms. Then we took the Eurostar to Paris. That’s when our nightmare started.

No trains were getting through to Paris because of a sudden sinkhole mere meters from the track. We made it as far as the last stop in England, before we were pitched off the train and forced outside to wait in the drizzle. For hours.

I had a baby and a senior with a compromised immune system. Did the powers that be care? Nope. We had to take matters into our own hands. After much skulking around, I found an unguarded entrance and smuggled our family back into the station. After much debate, we were finally put on a priority train once the line was reopened.

Eurostar at St Pancras station
Our train station wasn’t heated and it was impossible to find a place to sit down.

That’s the condensed version. The nut of it is, we spent far too long outside in the rain and even longer inside an unheated station. By the time we arrived at our hotel in Paris, we’d be been travelling well over 12-hours and mom was bagged.

The next morning she woke up sick. It was hard to tell if she was just rundown from a wet and chilly day outside, or if she’d picked up a virus, but her symptoms made us think that she’d caught the flu, rather than a regular cold..

It’s important to know the difference, because with seniors like my mom, the impact of the flu is greater. Due to weakening immune systems, adults 65 and older face a higher risk of complications and are more likely to be hospitalized. Over 12,000 Canadians get hospitalized each year just because of the flu. And once you’re in the hospital, who knows what else you might catch?

In Paris, we didn’t really know what to do. Mom just wanted to rest, so we let her. It changed our trip dramatically, but it could’ve been so much worse. The seasonal flu can worsen chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension, trigger strokes and increase seniors’ risks for heart attacks.

We had to cancel dinner reservations, scrap a lot of sightseeing and make sure someone was on deck to watch over mom in case we needed to get her to a hospital. In hindsight, we should’ve sought out professional medical advice. There are travel insurance apps that allow you to ask questions that are responded to be a nurse, or we could’ve simply emailed mom’s doctor back home.

Seeing how sick mom was from the flu really served as a wake up call for all of us. It made us realize how dangerous it was for her to catch any infection, and the serious impact that the flu can have on seniors. It also became clear how important it was for all of us to be protected, no matter our age.

Hand sanitizer only goes so far in protecting you against germs and viruses. (Photo credit: Mark Eleven Photography)

That’s a tall order when you’re the parent of a daycare going toddler. Since then, I’ve been on top of getting my annual flu shot. October or as soon as the influenza vaccine is made available is when you want to get it. Flu cases begin peaking in December, but people still catch it well before then and you want to be protected.

The other thing mom’s illness in Paris made us realize is how her loss of independence would affect us kids. Luckily she didn’t have a hospital stay, but those that do often suffer what’s known as a cascade of dependency.

You want the seniors in your life to be active and having fun, right?

As much as a third of all seniors leaving the hospital do so with a reduced ability to carry out their daily activities. To say the seasonal flu has a domino effect on families, communities and our health system is an understatement.

The best way to help prevent the flu is to talk to your healthcare provider to discuss flu shot options.  Not to totally scare you, but a recent study showed that a person hospitalized for the flu is two to five times more likely to die if they didn’t get the vaccine.

It’s not just about protecting ourselves. It’s about protecting and caring for others.

Do you make a point to get an annual flu shot?

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