By Margaret Allmon, RN, Twin Oaks Estate in O’Fallon, MO
For many, vaccines are something generally given to children but as we celebrate National Immunization Awareness Month it’s important to remember that, for older adults, a vaccine can be the difference between staying healthy or developing a life-threatening illness. For the 65+ population, there are key immunizations that should be discussed with a physician.
Perhaps the most well-known immunization is the influenza (flu) vaccine. Last year, an estimated 143.2 million children and adults in the United States received a flu shot.
Every year during the first week of October, we provide the flu vaccine to our residents at the Twin Oaks Senior Living campuses. The vaccine is administered through the health professionals at Nurses and Company who offer a short lesson about the vaccine and a heart-healthy apple to keep the doctor away.
Unlike some who may be dismissive of the effectiveness of an annual flu shot, our residents have come to expect and even demand to know when they’ll receive their vaccination. Since beginning this annual program, we’ve witnessed a tremendous reduction of significant flu-complications in our population.
Flu and pneumonia tend to go hand-in-hand and together they are ranked as one of the leading causes of death across all age groups in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Even so, pneumonia exists without the flu. In fact, there are more than 20 varieties of pneumonia and the illness is often a complication of a pre-existing condition or infection. For these reasons, pneumonia is a greater cause of concern for an older population. Fortunately, just like the flu, there are vaccines that can help to protect older adults.
Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) and pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) are slightly different but both flight against pneumonia. A person’s primary care physician will be able to determine which is best for an individual. Unlike a flu shot, pneumonia vaccines are given once every five or 10 years, depending on a person’s risk factors.
The immunizations we recommend most for our residents are for flu and the pneumococcal vaccine, marketed under the name Pneumovax.
Whooping Cough and Shingles
Vaccines are especially important for grandparents actively caring for little ones. Worldwide, pneumonia is the leading cause of death for children under 5 years old. A slight cough in an adult can develop into whooping cough in an infant. Known as pertussis in the medical community, whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection for which infants are very susceptible. There is a booster vaccine commonly called DPT available for adults that protects against tetanus (a bacterial disease commonly associated with deep wounds – like stepping on a rusty nail), diphtheria (a bacterial infection caused by contact with a contaminated items or people) and pertussis.
If you’ve had the highly contagious skin rash known as chickenpox then you are vulnerable to varicella-zoster virus, a painful viral infection commonly known as shingles.
Chickenpox, while annoying and uncomfortable, is often a mainstay of childhood. But shingles can develop complications including vision loss, neurological problems, skin infections and nerve damage resulting in chronic pain. As such, older adults should ask about the shingles vaccine.
It’s also very important that if someone isn’t feeling well, they really should avoid being around others. If they can’t seclude themselves, they should wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth, and avoid touching others and sharing drinking glasses and eating utensils. And always make hand washing a priority.
Doctor knows best
The residents of Twin Oaks Senior Living are examined by a medical professional every three months. Their vital signs are taken and their medications and health charts are reviewed. Medical doctors who visit Twin Oaks are able to order lab tests to ensure their vaccines and boosters are still effective. While not everyone can visit the doctor four times a year, it is very important that older adults have at least an annual check-up to ensure their health needs are being met.
As for immunizations, there is an active need for awareness. Immunizations aren’t just for kids. While infants, children and adolescents are the primary age bracket for immunizations, and with this being the month that teens and young adults go back to school/college, it is as important for older adults to receive boosters and vaccines as it is for the youngest members of our population.
Be sure to speak with your doctor about the benefits and some risks associated with immunizations so you can make the best choice for your health.
Margaret Allmon is a registered nurse and has served as director of nursing Twin Oaks Estate in O’Fallon, MO. since 1997. Her duties include direct supervision and 24-hour accountability of the registered nurses, certified medical aids and nurse aids, as well as administration of medications, triage for chronic and acute illness, communication with primary care physicians or emergency room personnel, basic first aid and transfer of residents to the appropriate level of care as their needs change.