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Caregiver Training Blog

Norovirus: What Caregivers of Older Adults Need to Know

Topics: Caregiver Info

Every year norovirus leads to as many as 71,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths in the United States, according to the CDC. Unfortunately, children and seniors are particularly vulnerable to this type of stomach virus or flu. However, there are some simple ways to minimize risk while promoting good health in seniors. Read on to learn what all elder caregivers need to know about norovirus and their aging loved ones. Or watch this informative video from mmLearn.org - Surving Norovirus: Not  Just a Cruise Ship Issue. 

Elder caregivers

Safe cooking practices can help prevent transmission of the infection.

What Is Norovirus?

While many people use the term "stomach flu" and "norovirus" interchangeably, they are very different things. Influenza, AKA "the flu," is a respiratory illness caused by a virus. As its name suggests, norovirus is also caused by a virus -- but in this case, a gastrointestinal infection, which leads to stomach and intestinal inflammation.

While norovirus outbreaks frequently occur in tight spaces, including hospitals, cruise ships, and nursing homes, they can occur in any environment where people come into close contact with each other. It can be transmitted from contact with a person who has it, or from a contaminated object, surface, or food which has touched the virus.

Striking more than 23 million people in this country every year, norovirus is extremely contagious and often involves several unpleasant days of alternating between the bed and the bathroom. For seniors, however, norovirus can be much more serious. In some cases, it can even be deadly.

Preventing Norovirus

Symptoms -- which can come on suddenly and last for anywhere between one to three days -- include vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and nausea. Unfortunately, norovirus can be spread before symptoms start to manifest. Additionally, people remain contagious for approximately three days after recovery, although in rare cases they can still spread the virus a full two weeks after getting better, according to the LAPD County Public Health department. Even worse? Unlike the flu, there's currently no vaccine for norovirus. So how can caregivers keep seniors safe?

Maintaining good hygiene and encouraging seniors to do the same is the first line of defense. In addition to washing with soap and water after using the bathroom or eating, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also recommends using alcohol-based sanitizers as an additional safety measure.

Safe cooking and food preparation is also essential. Be sure to thoroughly disinfect kitchen surfaces, wash all produce, and cook foods to adequate temperatures.

Treating Norovirus

Preventative measures can minimize the risk of contracting norovirus, but outbreaks do happen. While a virus can't be treated with antibiotics and there is no specific treatment for norovirus, a few norovirus survival techniques can help seniors stay comfortable while avoiding norovirus-related complications.

Elder caregivers

Bed rest is the top prescription for treating norovirus patients.

Plenty of rest is important, as is hydration due to the loss of fluids. Some doctors recommend sports drinks or other over-the-counter remedies for replenishing critical nutrients and minerals. Because dehydration is a serious threat, keep watch for symptoms including dry mouth and throat, decreased urination, and dizziness. If you notice any of these signs, call the doctor as hospitalization and intravenous fluids may be necessary.

Elder caregivers

While norovirus can be a serious threat, prevention and treatment can help seniors continue to lead healthy lives.

While noroviruses outbreaks can occur at any time, they're most common during the winter. These simple tips can help caregivers safeguard the health and wellness of their aging loved ones this winter and throughout the year. Mmlearn.org offers a large library of free videos for caregivers of older adults, covering topics pertaining to senior care. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a family caregiver, if you are caring for an older adult we know that you will find mmlearn.org an essential learning and guidance tool for all of your caregiver training needs. Access our free online caregiver videos for more useful resources today.