Smorgasbord Health Column – Elderly Care – Preventing Colds and Influenza – Sally Cronin

There are certain posts that I repeat each year, as a reminder and for new readers to the blog. We are heading into cold and flu season and both the very young and the elderly are very vulnerable to these opportunistic pathogens.

Elderly Care – Preventing Colds and Influenza

In most of our countries there is some form of elderly care system in place, either in a person’s own home or care facility. However, wherever an elderly person might live, apart from a natural reduction in immune system efficiency, at this time of year, there are many more opportunities for pathogens to take advantage of a weakened host. Unfortunately, in a nursing home, hospital or assisted living facility, the ability of germs to spread through the entire resident population is phenomenal.

I looked after my mother full-time for four years until she died at age 95. She loved visitors and there would be a lot of hugging and kissing of cheeks with people sitting to chat and holding her hand. It was great for her morale and the subject of much discussion long after they left. But unfortunately, sometimes they left more than their kindness behind. That first winter, my mother had two colds and a respiratory infection that lingered for weeks.

Christmas was the biggest challenge as she wanted to go to the church gift fair, the pensioners’ lunch and the coffee mornings. Although there were many of her old friends there, she was also greeted by strangers wanting to shake her hand and spend time talking to her. As with any event where there are a great many people, some around her were coughing and spluttering; inevitably she would be under the weather within three days.

After that first year, I knew that we needed to put some safeguards in place. It is difficult to build an elderly person’s immune system back up when their appetites are not as great as they used to be. Some may also have certain food restrictions due to dentures or other dental issues that make eating difficult.

However, it is important to make sure that any food they do eat is nutrient rich and full of anti-oxidants.


It is better to provide six small meals a day rather than one or two larger ones that might go unfinished. It is also easier for an older person’s digestive system if they eat smaller but high nutritional density meals, and this is how I worked with my mother to improve her immune function.

She enjoyed the same breakfast for years but I moved her from white bread to wholegrain, with some butter and marmalade and a glass of orange juice with a cup of coffee (She hated tea with a vengeance!). She would also sometimes enjoy a small bowl of porridge with warm milk and honey.

Mid-morning – another coffee and a piece of soft fruit.

My mother enjoyed a whisky and water before lunch everyday for at least 60 years, and considering she lived until she was 95, I don’t think it did her any harm! And I would not deny the claims that it is medicinal!

Lunch would usually consist of Salmon, chicken, lamb, pork, cod, turkey or beef – cooked so soft and easy to chew. Carrots, wholegrain rice (large tablespoon) broccoli or Brussels Sprouts, or other green vegetables. Some mashed vegetable options such as carrots and parsnips, or swede. She did not like potatoes but could be persuaded to have some if I bought fish and chips every couple of weeks.

For dessert she would have either yoghurt with blueberries, strawberries, stewed apple or rhubarb. Sometimes for a change she would enjoy jelly and custard or rice pudding with stewed fruit. She also enjoyed ice-cream and that would be topped with peaches but her favourite was tinned soft pears in juice with a spoonful of hot chocolate sauce!

Mid-afternoon – glass of cranberry juice or a piece of fruit.

Supper was varied according to what my mother fancied, but usually homemade vegetable or chicken soup with an egg sandwich, or scrambled egg on toast, tuna or chicken sandwich. She enjoyed smoked salmon sandwiches, and also she took rather a liking to bacon sandwiches toasted one side of the bread with mayonnaise . (It can take some time to find foods that they might not have eaten for a while and introduce them, but the more variety the better).

Before bed a cup of cocoa made with skimmed milk.


Dehydration in the elderly is a particular problem, which will impact the immune system function quite rapidly and lead to urinary tract infections. This is especially the case when they are sitting all day in a centrally heated environment without access to fresh air.

I gave my mother a 500ml bottle of water with a little cranberry concentrate on her table by her chair, and she was encouraged to drink through the day in addition to her coffees and juice. I used to top the bottle up from time to time when she would vacate her chair for a while, and she barely noticed that she was drinking more.

Some physical safeguards.

I am afraid I imposed a kissing and hugging ban for visitors to the house, except for family members between October and May initially and then permanently. My mother quite enjoyed telling people that she could not accept their advances! When we went out to an event, she was very good about keeping people at a distance, and like the Queen she wore lightweight cotton gloves when shaking hands.

I would wipe these off when we got home with antiseptic wipes, and there was a bottle of antiseptic hand wash by her chair for use when expecting visitors. I also introduced my mother to tea tree soap, which she used several times a day to wash her hands.

Making visiting a benefit and not a hazard or stressful.

Outside contact and visitors are very important for mental and emotional health and it is tough to limit these. However, if you can work visits in around the daily routine so that it is not too disrupted, it is physically healthier.

Anyone who was planning to visit my mother was asked to call first, and instead of just dropping in at meal times, or when my mother was having her afternoon nap, they would come at a specific time and only stayed 30 minutes or so. The elderly get tired very quickly. and whilst they love having visitors, it can become very stressful for them, especially when there are toddlers and young children running around.

I would ask visitors on the phone if they had a cold, or had been in contact with anyone in their family who had one. You will be surprised how many thought it was okay to come to see a 92 year old whilst in the middle of a cold or flu infection.

My mother did have the flu jab at the beginning of the season and with the improved diet and the precautions. she didn’t get another cold or the flu for the remainder of her life.

So if you are looking after elderly relatives at home, or you have some responsibility for their care, it is perhaps a good idea to review your cold and flu precautions for them as we go into the winter months. And pay particular attention over general holidays such as at this time of year, when either they will have many more visitors, or they will be taken to large family events where they will come into contact with a large number of well-meaning, but hands on admirers.

Fresh air: The wonder drug.

It is very important, despite the colder weather, to try and get elderly people outside into the fresh air on a bright, sunny day. Despite my mother’s reluctance at first, a wheelchair that folded into the back of my car, and a warm fleecy blanket, opened up a great many more opportunities, and we would enjoy sitting along the seafront with a flask of coffee watching the world go by. People would stop to chat, and dogs would come asking for attention, and half an hour of this combination of nature and interaction, are some of the best precautionary measures against illness you can find.

It has a two-fold effect on both the cared for and the carer.

©sally cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2019

A little bit about me nutritionally.

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with over twenty years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.

If you would like to browse by health books and fiction you can find them here:

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7 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Health Column – Elderly Care – Preventing Colds and Influenza – Sally Cronin

  1. Hi Sally, How wonderful for your mother to have had such a caring carer!! Eric and I have kept an eye out for a few elderly and ailing people over the years, but not full-time. Now he’s 90 (totally unbelievable…) and I’m in my eighties, I guess we’re in that bracket (but certainly don’t feel it…) He still drives like Stirling Moss (fast but well….) Apart from a few, expected, ailments,& lack of energy, we’re very lucky. We also watch what we eat and drink. Hugs xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sound advice and nicely written. My partner will be eighty this year Sally, and at the moment my daughter is suffering from flu, there is swine flu here in Ireland and so you can imagine that I have had to be very careful about things so as to safeguard him.

    Liked by 1 person

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