Seniors, and everyone else, can be caught by viruses

Public places have lots of germs, as does the home, so wash hands frequently and keep kitchen clean

If compromised immune systems are common amongst the elderly, then what are the greatest threats to their health?

It is the public spaces where plenty of viruses and bacteria abound and with a little thought.

Perhaps the two most common places where large numbers of bacteria exist are the handles of shopping carts and the bank’s ATM machine. Sick or not, people go to grocery stores and shop and go to banks to get money to do so. These surfaces are used by a lot of people daily, and are rarely cleaned.  It is a good idea for the elderly to carry a small container of antibacterial hand cleaner to put on their hands after using such devices.

Groceries, themselves, are often handled by a lot of people, particularly open produce items.  Consequently, these products may be carrying bacteria from human contact or from soil or other contaminants.

Interestingly, one of the dirtiest places in our homes is our kitchen sink because we clean most food products there. It is important, after each use of the kitchen sink for cleaning meat or vegetables, that an antibacterial cleaner be used and that sponges or washcloths be washed and dried under high heat conditions.

Viruses tend to exist for a short period of time, in the air or on hard surfaces, in areas where people are coughing or sneezing.  Doctors’ offices, hospital waiting rooms, grocery store line-ups, elevators, buses – anywhere where people gather, particularly in tight spaces, offer an opportunity for an easy exchange of viruses.

If local news outlets are indicating an increase in viral infections in an area, or during a certain season, it might be wise to avoid such places where possible, perhaps getting a relative to do some shopping and staying out of tight public spaces.

Of course, sometimes viruses come to the homes of the elderly.  Visiting relatives and friends, particularly children, spend a good deal of time in public places and may be carrying viruses when they arrive. It’s not unrealistic to suggest that when there are inevitable waves of flus and colds traveling through a school, a daycare or business offices, that contact and cuddling with Grandma and Grandpa might be avoided until the wave has passed.

The rules of reducing risk for viral and bacterial attacks are much the same at any age. Avoiding those who are sick, washing hands regularly and thoroughly (20 seconds), and keeping home and food surfaces clean are important routines in any home.

But for the elderly, reducing the risk of viral attacks and bacterial infections, in combination with seriously considering an annual flu shot, is a serious part of daily planning. Quite simply, the stakes are higher with each year that is added to one’s life.

Graham Hookey writes on education, parenting and eldercare (

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