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Take these 4 steps to lessen the impact of coronavirus and flu on individuals with brain injury

Constant Therapy | Traumatic brain injury, Stroke, Dementia

[Dr. Shaheen Lakhan is an award-winning physician-scientist and clinical development specialist, who is board-certified in both neurology and pain medicine with clinical training from the Cleveland Clinic and Massachusetts General Hospital. He is the VP of Research & Development at The Learning Corp, and writes a regular column in The Learning Corp’s BrainWire hub for brain health]

With Coronavirus (COVID-19) grabbing headlines and the U.S. experiencing one of the worst flu seasons in decades, the fear of getting sick can feel paralyzing. However, it’s important to remember that there are measures you can take to stay well, and vigilantly managing health is especially important for people in vulnerable populations which include the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions including brain disease or brain injury.

For stroke and TBI survivors or those living with dementia, viral illnesses like the flu and coronavirus can be especially devastating

The reason why they impact these individuals so much more is that they can set back recovery or worsen the underlying condition. And common symptoms like fatigue and confusion can have major mental impact, including acceleration of dementia and reduced cognitive function. 

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Being proactive in staying well this season doesn’t have to be hard

If you take small, consistent steps, you can make a big difference in preventing the spread of coronavirus or the flu. Below, I’ve rounded up some easy-to-recall advice on how to help your body fight flu and other ailments this season.

Getting a flu shot should always be at the top of your self-care list each year, but it’s not too late if you still haven’t gotten one. The CDC estimates that the flu vaccine reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40 and 60 percent of the overall population, and is an important preventative measure for people with chronic health conditions. Even if you do contract flu, the vaccine can reduce the severity of symptoms, helping to avoid hospitalization or further health complications. 

Listening to and caring for your body is important for overall health, but especially during flu season. Self-monitoring and caregiver oversight for potential symptoms (fatigue, fever, cough, etc.) can help early detection. Preventatively, tracking water intake, nutrition, sleep and stress can help stave off sickness. Wash your hands frequently. Studies have shown that poor nutritional status and high physical or emotional stress leave the body more susceptible to contracting flu and its associated complications. Make sure you’re getting enough water, sleep and nutrient-rich foods, specifically those high in vitamins B, C and D.

Taking contact precautions during flu season can protect both you and others from getting sick. Limit interactions with those who may be ill, especially those in nursing homes or care facilities which can be incubators for viral spread. Wash hands frequently. Similarly, if you’re starting to feel under the weather, isolate yourself from others to avoid sharing germs.   

If you suspect you have the flu or other virus, seek medical attention sooner rather than later. Immediate action gives you more options, including prescription medication from a doctor that can be taken if diagnosed in the first 48 hours of symptom onset. For those who can’t get to a clinic, digital care can be key – chat with your doctor about telehealth options, including virtual visits. Early treatment for any viral illness, especially for those with chronic illness, can mean the difference between taking a few sick days and more severe medical complications.  

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