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Immunizations for Older Adults

Immunizations for Older Adults

There's a tendency to associate the need for immunizations with infants and children. In reality, however, having an up-to-date vaccination record is important across the age spectrum, most particularly for those age 65 and older.

National Immunization Awareness Month is an annual August observance held to highlight the crucial role vaccinations play throughout one's lifetime. ATRIO Health Plans wants to especially emphasize the fact that aging is accompanied by a weakening of the immune system, which makes it more difficult to fight off infections.

Consequently, older adults are more likely to get illnesses such as the flu, pneumonia, and shingles – and to have complications that can lead to hospitalization and even death. Many seniors wrongly assume that they've outgrown the need for vaccinations, or they're fearful of immunizations' side effects. In reality, older adults are at far greater risk of complications from the actual diseases than from a vaccination's side effects.

Not only are many seniors' immune system's compromised, but they also may not have been vaccinated in childhood, or immunity protections may have faded. Additionally, there are new immunizations that they may not have received. For older adults who have chronic health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, staying current with recommended vaccinations is crucial.

Vaccination Checklist

The first step in the vaccination process is to schedule an appointment with your healthcare professional. At that appointment, you can discuss if any of the following immunizations are appropriate for your specific medical situation.

  • Influenza–It's generally recommended that adults age 65 and older receive a seasonal flu vaccination annually. This is especially important for those who've previously had a heart attack, because vaccine-preventable illnesses like the flu can increase the risk of another heart attack. Seniors who suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease also are more likely to experience complications from the seasonal flu. Similarly, in older adults with diabetes, influenza can raise blood glucose to dangerously high levels.
  • Whooping cough–Researchers have concluded that whooping cough occurs more frequently in older adults than had been previously recognized, and that immunity to the bacteria that cause whooping cough can wear off over time. Consequently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all adults 65 and older be immunized against whooping cough (also called pertussis), by getting the Tdap vaccine (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis).
  • Shingles–Shingles is a painful skin rash that’s caused by the same virus responsible for chickenpox. Not only can shingles be passed on to others up until the point when the infected person’s blisters begin to scab, shingles-rooted pain can continue indefinitely. One in three adults contracts shingles at some point in their life; the majority are 60 years or older, and the severity of shingles increases with age. As a result, the shingles vaccine – which is a one-time immunization – is recommended for adults aged 50 and above.
  • Pneumococcal disease–Pneumococcal disease can cause a variety of infections, including ear and sinus infections, as well as pneumonia and bloodstream infections. This disease takes the lives of 18,000 adults age 65 and above annually. Adults in this age category are advised to get the two available pneumococcal vaccines, which are administered about a year apart.
  • Hepatitis B Virus–Hepatitis B is a contagious virus that's transmitted through blood, blood products, and other bodily fluids. Symptoms include sudden fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, dark urine, joint pain, and yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice). Symptoms may last several weeks to several months. Those who develop chronic hepatitis B may suffer premature death from liver disease or liver cancer. It's important for older adults to get the hepatitis B vaccine because the liver and its functioning changes with age, making hepatitis B more prevalent among seniors. The risk of contracting hepatitis B increases if you have hemophilia, end-stage renal disease, diabetes, or other conditions that reduce resistance to infection. The vaccine is a series of three or four injections received over six months.

Immunizations are among the most effective steps you can take to maximize wellness, and August is an ideal time to make sure your vaccinations are up to date.

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