According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1 million people are affected by shingles each year, and nearly half are 60 or older.
Why are Immunizations Important for Seniors?
Protection against serious infectious diseases is not just for children or infants. In many ways, immunization is more vital as we age. Not only are we increasingly susceptible to illnesses and diseases as we get older, but also, the vaccines we had as children can begin to lose their effectiveness.
Because of this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly encourage older adults to be immunized in order to help reduce the risk of getting (and spreading) serious, often life-threatening disease. Frequency of immunization depends on the disease and the individual – and will be explored in further detail below.
How Do Senior Immunizations Work?
Vaccines are the products that help produce immunization (protection from a disease), and contain dead or weakened antigens of a certain disease. They are, in essence, imitations of their real counterparts and do not cause any of the associated symptoms. Once the vaccine is administered (typically through injection), the immune system produces antibodies to fight off potential infection. After these antigens have been fully eliminated and the antibodies have broken down, what’s left are memory cells.
Should the body encounter similar antigens in the future, these memory cells will then produce antibodies quickly and effectively, before the antigens have a chance to spread. Thus, the body does not necessarily become “immune” in the way that we often think, but rather, through vaccination, our antibodies have the training needed to vanquish otherwise threatening antigens.
Vaccines for Seniors and Elders
The topic of immunization should be something that older adults discuss with their physicians in detail. More than likely, they will recommend vaccines for influenza, pneumococcal disease, shingles, and tetanus-diphtheria. Below you will find details for each vaccination:
- Influenza: Commonly referred to as the flu, influenza is an infection that many familiarize themselves with throughout life. Although it may not be life-threatening to children or younger adults, it can be detrimental to the health of older adults. The most significant challenge with influenza is that the viruses are constantly changing, which makes it imperative that your senior loved ones get vaccinated annually. Doctors often recommend getting the shot between September and November which will allow your immune system plenty of time to build its defense, in advance of the flu season (October – May).
- Pneumococcal Disease: This is an infection caused by a certain type of bacteria responsible for causing everything from pneumonia to meningitis. When individuals are infected, the bacteria spreads through coughing, sneezing, or forms of direct contact. And spread it does; tens of thousands deaths occur each year in the U.S. from the infection, and older adults make up a significant portion of those deaths. Thus, the CDC highly recommends people 65 years of age and older get one dose of the vaccine. If, however, it’s been more than five years since they last received the vaccine (and they were younger than 65 at the time), it’s recommended that they receive a second dose.
- Shingles: Caused by a reactivation of the virus responsible for chickenpox, shingles is a painful rash that can result in blistered skin. Incidence of shingles increases with age. In fact, those over the age of 60 are ten times more likely to get shingles than children under the age of 10. Its respective vaccine, known as the zoster vaccine, is relatively new but is known to reduce the risk of shingles by approximately 50 percent. Most medical professionals recommend that those 60 years of age and older get the zoster vaccine, after thorough discussion with medical professionals.
- Tetanus/Diphtheria: Although tetanus and diphtheria are rarely seen these days (thanks largely to vaccinations), both are extraordinarily serious and often life-threatening. Tetanus is caused when a special type of bacteria – found primarily in dirt, dust, and manure – enters the body through cuts in the body. First signs of tetanus include stiffness in the jaw and achiness, but can eventually tighten the muscles to the point where breathing becomes difficult. Diphtheria, which is also caused by bacteria, can affect the tonsils, throat, nose, and skin. It’s recommended that adults 65 and older receive the tetanus-diphtheria vaccine at least every ten years. If, however, one has a new cut or puncture wound, it’s recommended that they follow up with a tetanus booster, even if they’ve been previously vaccinated.
As mentioned, it’s vital that your senior loved ones discuss vaccinations with their medical professional team to understand which are necessary. They are planning to travel to another country, they should also check with their doctor and local health department to check required vaccines. Most importantly, it’s recommended that your loved ones keep detailed records of the shots they’ve received, which should include date of vaccination and any of the side effects experienced.
Comfort Keepers® Can Help
At Comfort Keepers®, our highly trained caregivers can work with your loved ones to promote a healthy lifestyle and even transport them to any scheduled medical appointments. Contact your local Comfort Keepers office today for additional information.
- National Institute of Health. “Bound for your Good Health: A Collection of Age Pages.” Print. 2005.
- John Muir Health. “Senior Immunizations.” Web. 2017.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Vaccines and Immunizations.” Web. 2017.
- Aging Care. “Recommended Vaccines for the Elderly” by Anne-Marie Botek. Web. 2017.