Did you know that your elderly loved one is more likely to die from the flu or pneumonia than they are to die in a car accident?
The flu and pneumonia combine to rank seventh on the list of leading causes of death among seniors 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The good news: decreasing your loved one's chances of contracting these—and other—preventable diseases is as simple as getting a shot (or two) in the arm.
The CDC recommends the following vaccines for the elderly:
- Shingles: Shingles is more common (and severe) among the elderly and people with compromised immune systems, so anyone over the age of 60 years should be vaccinated. Shingles generally manifests as a blistering skin rash, but it can also cause additional problems, such as: fever, hearing loss, and vision problems. A senior can (and should) get vaccinated, even if they've already had an outbreak of shingles.
- The flu: While generally not dangerous to children and younger adults, the flu is deadliest among seniors 65 and up. There are three different types of flu vaccination available to the general public, but the only one recommended for seniors is a specially-designed, high-dose shot. The higher dosage is said to offer the elderly more protection than the traditional flu shot, and doesn't expose an older adult to the live virus, like the nasal spray vaccine would.
- Tetanus/Diphtheria/Pertussis: The vaccinations for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis are often given as a single shot. It's recommended that everyone, regardless of their age, get a tetanus/diphtheria booster shot at least every ten years, or after possible exposure to the virus that causes tetanus. Tetanus typically enters a person's bloodstream through an open wound and can be deadly, so it's recommended that even previously vaccinated individuals get a tetanus booster after a severe cut, puncture wound, or burn.
- Chickenpox: If an older adult hasn't had chickenpox, or the chickenpox vaccine, it's recommended that they undergo a preventative, 2-dose shot regimen. However, seniors with immune system deficiencies, cancer, or who are on prescription medications that inhibit the immune system, should not get the vaccine until they talk to their doctor.
- Pneumonia: Seniors are more likely to contract pneumonia, especially if they are frequent visitors of the hospital. People 65 and older should get the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV), which provides a protective effect against the 23 most common strains of pneumonia-causing bacteria.
- Measle/Mumps/Rubella (MMR): Recommendations regarding older adults receiving the MMR vaccine vary, though the issue is becoming a greater concern, given the increasing numbers of unvaccinated American children who are now contracting measles. According to the CDC, people born before 1957 were exposed to measles epidemics and have thus likely developed an immunity to the disease, so they do not need to undergo vaccination when they're older. However, individuals who received an inactivated measles vaccine in the 1960s or were never vaccinated when they were a child are recommended to get another round of shots, as is anyone born after 1957 who has no record of ever receiving the MMR vaccine.
For older adults with certain medical conditions, the CDC advises additional vaccinations, including: Hepatitis A and B, and Meningitis.
It's important to check with your loved one's doctor to make sure they are up-to-date on all of their suggested vaccinations.