Vaccinations Aren’t Just for Kids
Posted 3/21/2017 by UHBlog
One unfortunate fact of life is that the older you get, the less resilient you are. This means that sicknesses like the flu or pneumonia can wallop you.
“The trouble for older people is they have less reserves than someone who is 35,” says geriatric medicine specialist Taryn Lee, MD. “An 85-year-old is more likely to have multiple medical problems and not be as physically active. Any new medical insult can be quite a bit for them, especially if they also have a memory problem. They might not recover back to their baseline after an illness.”
Getting vaccinated is one thing you can do to help ward off or minimize some preventable illnesses. It can also help keep your immediate and extended family safe from diseases like whooping cough, flu and pneumonia.
To ensure you remain strong and resilient and prevent the spread of illnesses intergenerationally, make sure to get a:
Flu shot. The flu is especially hard on older people, Dr. Lee says.
“The latest research shows that the flu can set off a chain of events in older people and cascade into other problems,” she says. “It can cause cardiovascular complications that contribute to stroke, heart problems and even death.”
While the reasons aren’t yet clear, the flu has lingering effects in older people.
“We see problems a few weeks after the older person has recovered where something else happens,” she says. “In my own practice, every year one or two patients will recover from the flu only to die a few weeks later.”
A flu vaccine is recommended annually and is available sometime between August and September.
Pneumonia vaccination. There are two pneumonia vaccines recommended for people 65 and older. They are: Prevnar 13® (PCV13) and Pneumovax® (PPSV23). Patients get PCV13 first and then six months to a year later, they receive PPSV23.
“The vaccines help protect against invasive pneumonia, which can cause blood infections or meningitis,” she says. “The majority of patients get the pneumonia and flu shots at the same time.”
Whooping cough – or Tdap – vaccine. You’ve probably seen the TV commercial of the grandmother who transforms into the Big Bad Wolf while holding her infant grandchild. She has whooping cough – or pertussis – which is highly contagious and can be passed between older and younger generations. A one-time vaccine of Tdap- – short for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis – vaccine will help protect infants and young children around you.
Even if you're not around children, a tetanus and diphtheria (Td) booster dose is recommended every 10 years. This protects you from getting sick from a deep or dirty wound, perhaps caused by a gardening or tool-handling accident.
Another vaccine that Dr. Lee recommends that her older patients get is the shingles vaccine.
“If you had chicken pox when you were younger, the virus is still dormant in you and can come back to haunt you,” Dr. Lee says.
Shingles is an extremely painful and debilitating disease, which usually includes a rash that lasts for weeks. Some people experience pain and discomfort that can continue for years. Usually, shingles attacks people over the age of 60, but it can happen at any age, particularly when your immune system is compromised. And you can get shingles even if you never had chicken pox. About one in three people in the U.S. will get shingles.
While the vaccine won't reduce pain or combat an existing case, it can lower your chances of getting shingles by more than 50 percent or developing the post-shingles painful state by nearly 70 percent.
“Each time you see your doctor, your immunizations should be reviewed, so you know you're up to date and preventing illnesses,” Dr. Lee says. “The most important thing is to stay as healthy as possible and stay out of the hospital.”
Taryn Lee, MD is a geriatrics medicine specialist and the Geriatrics Fellowship program director at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Lee or any other doctor online.