When you think of immunizations you probably think of the role they play in protecting young children from disease. However, they also play an important role in protecting seniors from dangerous diseases like influenza, shingles and pneumonia. Even if a senior has had appropriate vaccinations over the course of his or her life, protection from different types of diseases is needed over the age of 65 for two reasons:
- Immunity gained from childhood vaccines fades over time.
- Our bodies become susceptible to different diseases as we age.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the following vaccines are recommended for older adults to prevent contracting diseases that can be dangerous to their health:
Commonly called the flu, influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses that can infect the nose, throat, and lungs. A senior can contract a case of the flu that is mild or severe. In some cases the flu can lead to hospitalization. People over the age of 65 are at a higher risk of getting the flu, especially if they have chronic medical conditions like diabetes, asthma or heart disease. According to the CDC, “More than 60 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations occur in people 65 years and older.” It is important to get a flu vaccine every year.
Shingles (Herpes Zoster)
The CDC estimates that one million Americans get shingles every year, and about half of them are 60 years old or older. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. For those who had chickenpox as a child, the virus remains in the body even after recovery, but is inactive. Physicians and scientists don’t know why in some people the virus becomes active many years later, causing shingles.
Those at greater risk of shingles include people with compromised immune systems, certain cancers like leukemia and lymphoma and those who take immunosuppressive drugs like steroids and other drugs taken after organ transplantation.
Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis (Whooping Cough)
The Tdap vaccine protects against these three dangerous diseases that are highly contagious. Diphtheria and pertussis spread from person to person through coughing and sneezing. Tetanus spreads through cuts and scratches on the skin.
- Diptheria is rare in the US today, largely due to successful immunization campaigns. The disease can lead to breathing problems, heart failure, paralysis and death.
- Tetanus, also called lockjaw, is also rare but it can cause the muscles in the head and neck to tighten so severely that it is impossible to open the mouth, swallow or breathe.
- Pertussis causes severe coughing spells that make it difficult to breathe or sleep. It can lead to vomiting and even rib fractures. Five out of every 100 adults with pertussis are hospitalized.
Known as pneumonia, this disease infects the lungs and the bloodstream. It is very dangerous to the health of older seniors.
Other reasons for seniors to get immunized
Seniors who have chronic disease may need specific vaccinations to protect their health. If any of the following conditions exist, check with the physician about immunizations that may be needed:
- Diabetes Type 1 and Type 2
- Heart Disease, Stroke, or Other Cardiovascular Disease
- HIV Infection
- Liver Disease
- Lung Disease including Asthma
- Renal Disease
- Weakened Immune System
International travel requires special vaccines depending upon the destination. Seniors should check with a physician to ensure the proper immunizations are received at appropriate intervals before leaving the U.S.
Ensuring that seniors are properly vaccinated is important to their health. Check with a physician to determine which vaccines are recommended given the senior’s health and the existence of any chronic disease. Discuss with the physician whether the senior’s current health creates any risk to being vaccinated. Once you have the proper information you can make sure that immunizations protecting the health and well-being of your loved one.
If you think an in-home caregiver might benefit your family, contact Family Matters In-Home Care for a free consultation. Our caregivers are thoughtfully selected to ensure that their skills and personalities will be the best possible fit for your loved one. We have seen many of our caregivers develop meaningful relationships with clients, and we strongly believe that these friendships have a positive effect on their overall health and well-being.