Published: Jul 7, 2015
One of the best ways for families to help senior loved ones stay healthy is to make sure they are vaccinated against common, preventable diseases. Respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia and influenza, are the eighth leading cause of death among the older population and can be prevented with vaccinations. This risk increases for those who have chronic conditions like diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or cardiovascular disease. Seniors with chronic diseases are more likely to suffer complications from pneumonia and influenza and are more likely to die as a result. Diabetics, for example, are three times more likely to die from a bout with the flu than a healthy adult.
Shingles also poses a health risk for seniors. Not only can shingles be excruciatingly painful but also the effects of the disease can last for years. Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), severe, debilitating pain, can last for months or years and is a common symptom in seniors over 60 who get shingles. Shingles can cause permanent damage, such as blindness and scarring, increase the risk for stroke, and can affect sleep. Seniors who have compromised immune systems can also develop pneumonia as a secondary infection to shingles.
In spite of these risks, vaccination rates for older adults are low. On average, only 66% of seniors aged 65 or older get vaccinated for influenza and 46% for pneumonia. The rates for shingles vaccines are even lower, with the most recent figures showing only about 16% of seniors have had the vaccine.
These rates could be improved with education. Some seniors may not know they need to be vaccinated or may think that childhood vaccinations protect them. Others may believe that the side effects of vaccines are too risky. However, the risks and complications from the diseases themselves are far greater than the possible side effects from vaccinations. Families should encourage their senior loved ones to speak with their doctors about recommended vaccinations and help them get to appointments if needed. In the event the family is unable to help the senior get to appointments, professional caregivers can assist. For more information on how professional caregivers can assist seniors with transportation, medication reminders, and daily activities, contact your local Comfort Keepers® office today.
American Lung Association. (2010). Missed opportunities: Influenza and pneumonia vaccination in older adults. Retrieved from http://www.lung.org/assets/documents/publications/lung-disease-data/adult-vaccination-disparities.pdf.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (September 23, 2014). Adult vaccination: an important step in protecting your health. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/features/vaccineschronicconditions/.
Goldberg, C. (March 8, 2013). The scariest reason to get the shingles vaccine. Wbur’s CommonHealth Reform and Reality. Retrieved from http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2013/03/scariest-reason-shingles-vaccine.
John Muir Health. (n.d.). Senior Immunizations: Learn the basics about the most important shots for older adults. Retrieved from http://www.johnmuirhealth.com/health-education/health-wellness/Immunizations/senior-immunizations.html.
Greenberg, S. (2012). Immunizations for older adults. Try This: Best practices in Nursing Care to Older Adults, 21. The Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing, New York University, College of Nursing. Retrieved from http://consultgerirn.org/uploads/File/trythis/try_this_21.pdf.
Severson, A. (April 8, 2014). Shingles raises stroke risk for seniors, but antiviral drugs help. Healthline News. Retrieved from http://www.healthline.com/health-news/shingles-raises-stroke-risk-for-seniors-040814#2.
The Washington Post. (October 4, 2005). In elderly, shingles complications can be severe, lasting. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/30/AR2005093002077.html.
Web MD. (n.d.). Flu and chronic medical conditions. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/flu-guide/fact-sheet-chronic-conditions.