Elders and National Hugging Day

What I Learned This Month About Being Sick While Old

One of the universal effects of getting old is that our bodies and their systems gradually slow down and operate less efficiently so illness hits us harder than when we were younger and lasts longer.

I see now, as I am finally recovering, that my complaints ten days ago about tiredness and ennui were the beginning of worse to come. It's been so long since I had a serious bout of flu, I had forgotten how it feels at first and believed I'd get over such lassitude.

Instead, by last weekend my temperature was up to 101.x where it stayed for a couple of days.

Stupidly, I thought I was well enough on Tuesday to, as I reported, see the eye surgeon and meet friends for dinner that evening too. Dumb.

For the rest of the week, until Saturday, I dozed almost around the clock. When I wasn't sleeping, I experienced mental confusion and a terrible sense of anxiety, EG: there's something I've promised to do but I can't remember what it is).

Sometimes I could not decide if I had done something or only thought about doing it.

In lucid moments, I checked email but realize now that doing so increased feelings of panic. Get-well messages from friends and blog readers made me feel obligated to write back but I was too tired to do it so the anxiety was compounded, and compounded further each time I checked the inbox.

Other emails with questions about plans for an upcoming community meeting I chair required an answer. I could barely make sense of the words I read on the screen and typing a response felt like a Sisyphean effort.

Finally on Saturday morning, for the first time in many days, I woke clear-headed. Clear-headed and chastened. I'm not anywhere near as tough as I think I am and now I've come up with some things I have learned about being sick while old that might make it easier next time.

Never, ever ignore an ailment – cold, flu, etc. when it is first coming on. It will – WILL - hit harder than when you were 20 or 30 or 40.

At the earliest symptoms stock up, if necessary, on the remedies you use – pain killers for achiness, sleep aids, refills for prescription drugs if they are low, beverages, etc.

(I was lucky that I had just frozen a gigantic batch of homemade soup so when I was occasionally hungry, I had only to engage with the microwave.)

While you can still think, cancel upcoming appointments so that you are not plagued with thoughts about something you may be forgetting to do.

Do not read email. Period. You're probably too sick to make sense in response and it will sap your energy to do so.

Don't forget that flu can be deadly to elders more frequently than to younger adults. So as you get ready to go to bed, make sure your phone is at your side and that phone numbers – physician and emergency – are where you can easily find them.

Be prepared for a lingering recovery and don't overextend yourself. Flu and colds last longer in old age and so does the aftermath.

If you have further suggestions, please add them below. This does not include, however, specific remedies, foods, drinks, etc. which will be removed. And thank you all for your well wishes while I was out of commission.

ANNOUNCEMENT: In keeping with letting myself off the hook for too many responsibilities while sick, I have not prepared stories for The Elder Storytelling Place this week. They will return next Monday 27 January.


As an older person and retired too, we have a tendency to take on more responsibilities than we can handle because it makes us feel useful and, while keeping busy is important it can take its toll on the body and its systems. Therefore, without offering any home remedies the best health advice I can offer is back off on some of those activities and take care of yourself for a while.

Thank-you for expressing this so well.

I'm glad you're better but still keep taking care of yourself, please. I have discovered that one of the side-effects of getting sick at this age is that I desperately try to avoid sick people and am ticked off by those who don't observe what should be normal hygienic habits, like sneezing into a hankie or the crook of your elbow. I also push elevator buttons and such with a knuckle rather than the tip of my finger. Sleep is the best thing you can do, if you can do it.

If you have a reliable friend or relative near by, let them know you are under the weather, so that they can check in with you now and then. Don't try to tough it out alone. Sometimes being too independent is not a good thing.

Also beware of secondary infections - colds and flu can progress sinus infections, bronchitis or pneumonia. [snip]

Glad you feel better. And thank you for the good advice.

Ditto Lisa.

When you liver alone you need to always be prepared for the unexpected illness. Many years ago I got the flu and didn't have the proper food or beverage in the house, much less medications.

I was far too sick to leave to go stock up so I now have 7-up and chicken soup on hand all the time. Those are the only things I can tolerate when I am ill.

I am so glad that you are feeling better, but, as advised, take it easy for a while until you are sure you are over this nasty bout.

Will I ever learn to proof read BEFPORE sending? Of course, that word should be live and not liver. :-(

I solve the nagging to-do list and possible forgetfulness by maintaining a calendar on my phone and computer that sends me reminders (email, popups, or both). I include appointments, the dog's monthly meds, notes about my symptoms, birthdays, when to change the furnace filter, etc. Anything I think I might want or need to remember. And once a task is done, I mark it "DONE." (I've learned that Just because a task is two days ago on the calendar doesn't mean I actually did it.)

My primary exposure to illness is the supermarket. I don't think the wipes they provide for the cart handle help much since the cart gets switched at check-out, but I do make it a point not to touch my eyes, nose, or mouth at the store or at home afterwards until after I've washed my hands.

The grandkids are another high risk factor, but they, their parents, and I are very conscientious about not exposing me to any bugs. (Grade schools are germ factories!)

Along these lines: does anybody here have a good, or bad, experience with one of those necklaces where you can push a button for help?

I live alone so I have a circle of friends who check on each other if we haven't talked for a while. I also keep soup (made with lots of ginger and garlic) in the fridge, ginger ale and a complete stock of aspirin, etc on hand. I also make sure to get my flu/pneumonia shots each year. I had the flu in 1999 and ended up with pneumonia. I was wobbly for months afterwards so now I go over the top to be prepared in advance. Good to hear that you are getting well but you know to take it easy!

Ronnie, I'm glad you've recovered and appreciate your tips on what to do when you get sick while old.

Darlene's suggestion of having a supply of beverages and food on hand at all times is excellent. For me, it's crackers and sugar-free soda.

I have to be especially careful about eating frequent small healthful meals when I'm sick because I have Type 2 diabetes.

Shelley - My husband had one and it saved his life more than once. They were Johnny-on-the-spot when he pushed the button. They are well worth the monthly price. It certainly adds an element of feeling secure when one is living alone.

If I could give one piece of advice for getting better, it would be to stay WELL HYDRATED!! Thank you for all your advice, Ronni!

glad you are recovering, Ronnie.

Of course the usual preventative measures are worth taking - the flu shot, the pneumonia shot - and for good measure, for those of us in this cohort, the Shingles vaccination.

I was guilty of procrastination on that flu shot until just recently and got away with it, this time.

It's typically caring of you to post this gallant note -- here you're feeling way under the weather and yet you focus on getting the constructive and strong word out to us. As my Dad used to say, Much Obliged, and GET WELL.

Getting the Flu is a very scary business. It may very well be that your body is no longer making the amount of antibodies necessary to fight off infection from the normal Flu shot you are getting. They do have a special 'double dose' shot that is supposed to help more. There is a significant percentage of seniors that get no benefit at all from the regular shot anymore. Ask your doctor.

I never go out when I am sick. I don't want to give it to anyone else. I stay in even with the common cold. If my temperature goes above 101 I call my doctor. The last time I had the Flu my temp went up to almost 103 and lasted the full 10 days. I have not gotten the Flu since I started with shots about 10 years ago.

I think it would be prudent to have your internist give you a quick check-up just to rule out secondary infections... JMHO.. oh.. and welcome back to the world :)

Keep on top of it and see a Dr. early on, I didn't and ended up the ER on New Year's Eve. It can move with surprising speed once you've got it.

for those of us who live alone being ill is even harder I think. Advice, call a friend and let them know you are sick and may need a grocery run or whatever.

Frankly I think getting the flu when one lives alone is awful at no matter what age. I have had horrible flus when younger, one for a month and a half, in which at times I thought I was dying.

I learned then to swallow my pride and call a friend to go the the grocery store for me for fruit or ginger ale, all I oould handle.

luckily after that month long flu I havent had it again. Now I AM old and know it would be twice as bad.

Hope you get fully well soon. Blessings, Susan

Keeping hydrated, dipping the toothbrush in boiling water once a day, and washing my hands often seem to reduce the length of cold or flu when I encounter those.

i don't want to jinx anything by saying this, but i don't think i have ever had the flu. i have had bronchitis and pnuemonia and that is a bitch and exhausting, so i can sympathize. it is harder to hae these conditions as we get older, but i think the diseases are possibly nastier than they used to be too. in any case it is good advise to take it easy.

i always have some yummy boxed soups in stock and just heat up a bowl in the microwave. it is very comforting in cold weather even when i am not sick. my mother always made cinnamon toast and tea when i was sick as a child and it still sounds good! pampering yourself is allowed and encouraged when you are sick...take care!

Since I am a new mother again, (Amber, my rescue kitty) I'm realizing that managing to take care of her and me when I feel awful calls for some of the same tactics I used when a single mom--namely keeping it as simple as possible (dry food only till you feel better), and no play times till you are ready. I think the extra cuddle time in bed with you makes up for that. If possible, beg, plead or pay someone to empty the litterbox and garbage for you and/or to pick up supplies you might have run out of for him/her.

A lot of good ideas in the posts.

"Don't forget that flu can be deadly to elders more frequently than to younger adults."

I agree but the odd thing here in North Texas where we are now at epidemic levels of flu cases, most are young and middle aged people and it's got the experts flummoxed.

Glad you're recovering Ronni.

I am happy to know that you a re feeling better. This is well said and good advice.


What Kenju said...She and I are almost always on the same page.



Thanks, Diane.

Thank you, and this is the first time that I've seen this site but will send this to my friends. I have two little doggies and was wise enough that when I got them, I'd had major surgery for a renal tumor, and also wheelchair bound. So, I trained them to grasspads for when the weather is very cold, or snow, or I am very ill. They get out often, but it's a great help. I'm a early senior, but, God willing, if I live another 15 or o years, It'll help me. I am grateful to have found this website, and thank u fir being herr.

And, less I forget, praying for your wellness Ronnie.

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