Shingles is a very serious reactivation of the more common chickenpox virus. Sadly, seniors and those with compromised immune systems have a 20 to 30-percent increased likelihood of experiencing this painful disease. In older adults, the virus attacks the nervous system causing burning, shooting pain and tingling, itchy rashes and blisters.
Immunizations exist, but only a handful of seniors know to ask their doctors or pharmacists for help. Don’t let the fact that you had chickenpox prevent you from getting preventive help for shingles, which is not contagious, but more dangerous as we age.
Shingles is the reactivation of the chickenpox virus in adults. Sadly, and as we age, this particular strain carries a larger number of risk factors, including death. A larger number of older adults are falling victim to shingles, because inoculations of the particular strain have not kept pace with chickenpox immunizations. This has allowed the varicella-zoster virus, which is the common cause behind both skin infections, to reactivate.
Only 31% of adults ages 60 and over report receiving the shingles vaccine, which has the potential to reduce their risk for more grievous complications after experiencing a case of shingles. These complications include chronic pain, vision loss, depression and anxiety.
Shingles immediately presents in those with already-compromised immune systems from cancer treatments, too much sun or organ transplant drugs. Those advanced in age may experience skin that has fluid-filled blisters and is sensitive to the touch, with itching, lingering pain or tingling remaining long after the pressure is removed. Additionally, seniors may simply feel sick or have a case of the hiccups that will not go away.
Depending on where the rash occurs, older adults might experience vision loss, hearing loss or vertigo. These are very serious complications that can increase the likelihood of a fall, or worse.
When left untreated, or if symptoms persist longer than three to five weeks, seniors may succumb to more long-term nerve damage, including postherpetic neuralgia, eye problems, ear problems and skin damage.This damage can put them at risk of scarring or skin cancer. Inflammation of the lung, liver, brain or spinal cord, while rare, could lead to death. Shingles can be fatal, especially for those ages 70 and older. It is important for seniors to understand that every case in 1,000 results in an untimely death for that particular cohort.
Immunizations exist, but many folks may be under the impression that if they already had chickenpox, then they will not fall victim to this painful nerve disease. Sadly, just the opposite is true: 20 percent of individuals who have had chickenpox will suffer a case of shingles.
Those experiencing a case of shingles may also experience the following impairments:
Medical alert devices for those experiencing a case of shingles are useful not only so one can monitor and control long-term pain, but also to prevent the disease progressing toward more grievous inner ear and eye problems.
Mobile medical alert systems may not be necessary for a patient experiencing a case of shingles, as they may be home-bound and more likely to fall within the home. That said, the GPS tracking could be appealing for someone recovering or managing chronic pain and itching, since they will need to try to continue caring for themselves and taking trips out to the doctor, or just down the street to the grocery store.
In-home medical alert systems will not only help link the patient to a caregiver, but also help the older adult monitor their symptoms and medications, which can include opioids in extremely severe cases.
Even chronic issues from a case of shingles do not necessarily warrant a mobile or in-home medical alert device. If you choose to opt out of these devices, there are still steps you can take to better manage long-term or chronic pain.
A bad case of shingles is not to be brushed aside, as worsening symptoms such as skin lesions and rashes can develop into long-term pain issues, as well as possible vision loss or equilibrium problems. Shingles is not pleasant for anyone, but for those ages 60 and over, the scratching and nerve damage could lead to earaches, hearing loss, dizziness, paralysis and even death. If left untreated, the older adult might become home-bound or addicted to pain medication as a means to combat the itching and burning.
Medical alert devices can aid in cases where the senior does not see a full recovery on the horizon, and needs to monitor for falls due to vertigo, or to control opioid intake on a prescribed schedule. If you haven’t yet, ask your doctor about the one-time shot to reduce your risk of shingles, so as to ensure a high quality of life well into the future.