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Lyme Disease: What Seniors Should Know

A Good Day Gone Bad
Ticks. These small arachnids get to us through a behavior known as questing, in which they perch themselves on tall blades of grass or plant stems and wait for something – or someone – to brush past. And that’s when they strike, biting down on the skin and attaching themselves to feed on the blood they crave. Research shows that, over the last few decades, the tick population in the U.S. has grown rapidly, and as a result, the number of cases related to the diseases they carry has also risen. Lyme disease, in particular, is of growing concern. While Lyme disease can be dangerous to those of all ages, it poses a much greater risk for seniors, whose immune systems are generally less effective.

The Importance of Early Detection
Tick bites are extraordinarily common, especially in the Midwest and northeastern areas of the U.S from April through September. Given their commonality, there’s a good chance that most people may remove the tick and simply move on, viewing them more as a nuisance and not thinking of what may be happening under the skin. What’s more, because of the natural anesthetic that ticks secrete when they bite, some may not even be aware that they’ve even been bitten (assuming the tick fell off on its own accord). That’s why it’s imperative for seniors to understand the early signs of Lyme disease. The sooner they begin treatment, the greater their chances of overcoming the illness. 

Here’s what seniors should be on the lookout for:

  • Fever, chills, and joint aches
  • A rash with a bull’s eye-like appearance (a small red bump just after a tick bite is common and not always indicative of Lyme disease)
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Intense migraines
  • Dizziness and shortness of breath
  • Problems with short term memory

One of the difficulties in diagnosing Lyme disease in seniors is that many of the symptoms mimic those found in other conditions and diseases commonly found in older adults. In fact, songwriter and actor Kris Kristofferson was misdiagnosed for years as having Alzheimer’s, when in fact the source of his memory loss was caused by Lyme disease. Detailed information, in this case, is paramount to diagnosis and treatment. If seniors report symptoms such as those listed above to their physician, it’s important to also let them know if there was time spent outside. If Lyme disease is detected, an antibiotic will be prescribed and the infection will heal within two-to-three weeks. 

But as mentioned, time is of the essence when it comes to Lyme disease, and seniors should never shrug off the symptoms. The longer Lyme disease goes untreated in seniors, the harder it becomes to cure. And even if late-stage Lyme disease is treated, the lingering effects, such as fatigue and nausea, may never fully go away.

Reducing the Risk of Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is undoubtedly a great risk for seniors, but it should not deter them from enjoying the outdoors. Taking a few precautionary steps can help seniors avoid the bloodsuckers almost entirely. Before embarking on a walk or hike, it’s important to put on clothing that covers up the arms and legs, as ticks are more likely to attach themselves there. If it’s warmer out and longer clothing isn’t a sensible option, applying tick repellent product (with 20% DEET or higher) is recommended. Sticking to the center of trails or walking paths can also help, as can avoiding areas of high or thick vegetation, if possible. Upon returning from outside, seniors should also check themselves thoroughly for the presence of ticks or indications of a tick bite.

Comfort Keepers® Can Help
Getting to spend time outside can be a key component of our physical and emotional well-being, and at Comfort Keepers®, we want to ensure that seniors have the means to do so. Our caregivers can help clients dress appropriately for a hike or walk – with clothing that will reduce the risk of tick bites – and accompany them every step of the way. Call a local Comfort Keepers location to learn more about our caregiving services. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Signs and Symptoms of Untreated Lyme Disease.” Web. 2018.
ThoughtCo. “How Do Ticks Get On You?” by Debbie Hadley. Web. 2017.
Interim Healthcare. “Are ticks dangerous for the elderly?” Web. 2018.
Next Avenue. “Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Dementia’ Was Lyme Disease” by Emily Gurnon. Web. 2016.

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