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Older adults are far more likely to die from the flu

Written by Diane Archer

A new CDC study provides yet another reason for older adults to get the flu vaccine. Specifically, it finds that the older you are the more you should be concerned about getting the flu. It also finds that the oldest Americans are far more likely to end up in hospital and die from the flu than younger Americans.

The 46 million people over 65 experience about nine in ten flu-related deaths and at least half of flu-related hospitalizations. The likelihood of risk increases for people after 65, when they become frailer and less functional. Medicare covers the flu shot in full as part of its package of preventive care benefits to protect older adults from contracting the flu.

Researchers looked at health outcomes for 19,760 people age 65 and older. They found that people 85 and older were at least twice as likely to be hospitalized and as much as six times more likely to be hospitalized as people between 65 and 74. The greatest likelihood of hospitalization came during the height of the flu season.

The likelihood of flu-related death or transfer to hospice, end-of-life care, is greater for older people living in nursing homes and other congregate care facilities as well as for people with neurologic disorders, cardiovascular disease, renal disease, chronic lung disease, and immunosuppression. People with asthma, who got the flu shot, and who received antiviral therapy were less likely to die or be hospitalized.

People over 85 were also far more likely to develop pneumonia and die or go into hospice care (8.7 percent) than people 65-74 (3.8 percent.) People over 85 were less likely to have fever and other flu symptoms, so testing is important.

The high-dose and adjuvented influenza vaccines may be helpful in preventing flu for older adults.

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