Flu Advice for Seniors

 Seniors among Groups Hardest Hit by Flu

          For most people, getting the flu means feeling achy and feverish for a week or so, but for people 65 years and older, the flu can be much more serious. People in this age group are at high risk for severe flu illness and complications. In fact, an estimated 60 percent of flu-related hospitalizations in the United States occur in this age group each year. Last season flu illness was particularly severe for people 65 and older, prompting CDC to report the highest flu-related hospitalization rates in this age group since it began tracking this information during the 2005-2006 flu season.

          Unfortunately, the burden of flu illness in people 65 and older was accompanied by reports that the flu vaccine did not work as well as expected to protect people in this age group against one particular flu virus last season. If that news left you asking yourself whether getting a flu vaccine this season is still worthwhile for people 65 and older, the answer is absolutely and unquestionably, “Yes!”

There are plenty of reasons for people 65 and older to get a flu vaccination this year, and vaccination remains the first, best and most important step in protecting against flu illness and its complications.

While the benefits of flu vaccination can vary – and this is particularly true in people 65 and older – studies show that vaccination can provide a range of benefits, including reducing flu illness, antibiotic use, doctor’s visits, lost work, and even helping to prevent hospitalizations and deaths.

In fact, a recent study by CDC and Vanderbilt University experts found that flu vaccination reduced the risk of flu-related hospitalization by nearly 77 percent in study participants 50 years of age and older during the 2011-2012 flu season.*

Other studies have found that flu vaccination reduces the risk of death in older adults. For people with certain underlying heart conditions, several studies indicate that flu vaccination can reduce the risk of a heart attack. Overall, there is significant evidence to support the benefits of vaccination in people 65 and older.

If you are in this age group, there are two flu vaccine options available to choose from this season: the standard flu shot and a high-dose flu shot made and approved specifically for people 65 years of age and older.

The high-dose vaccine contains more antigen (the part of the vaccine that helps your body build up protection against flu viruses) than the regular flu shot, and this extra antigen is intended to produce a stronger immune response in seniors. CDC does not have a preference for which vaccine seniors should get this season. “Either the regular flu shot or the high-dose vaccine are perfectly acceptable options for people 65 and older this season,” said Dr. Alicia Fry with CDC’s Influenza Division. “The important thing is to get vaccinated because it’s still the best protection currently available against the flu.”

Flu vaccine is offered in many locations. Use the vaccine finder at http://vaccine.healthmap.org/ to find a flu vaccination clinic near you. Medicare covers both flu and pneumonia vaccines with no co-pay or deductible. As part of the Affordable Care Act, all plans in the Health Insurance Marketplace and other plans will provide many free preventive services, including flu vaccinations. For information about the Health Insurance Marketplace, visit www.HealthCare.gov. Health Insurance Marketplace open enrollment starts October 1, 2013, and ends March 31, 2014. Coverage can begin as soon as January 1, 2014. For more information about influenza or vaccination, visit http://www.cdc.gov/flu, or call 1-800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636).

* Talbot HK, Zhu Y, Chen Q, et al. Effectiveness of influenza vaccine for preventing laboratory-confirmed influenza hospitalizations in adults, 2011-2012 influenza season. Clin Infect Dis. 2013; doi: 10.1093/cid/cit124.

Senior Health Information for Caregivers

A person may find themselves in the position of being a caregiver when they least expect it.
A spouse or the children of an older adult may become their caregiver in an instant if their parent or loved one falls or has a medical-related incident. The person in their new caregiver role may have a brand-new set of responsibilities and be faced with issues they never heard of or were not prepared for.

Being a caregiver may not be the issue as much as knowing how to be a caregiver.

Taking care of another person may be intimidating for someone who had no idea they’d ever be in that position. Older adults may develop illnesses, physical limitations, medical conditions or even suffer side effects from dangerous medications or medical devices that the caregiver had no prior knowledge of.

Two common conditions that caregivers of seniors may face are Alzheimer’s disease and incontinence.

 

Alzheimer’s Drugs Require Close MonitoringSenior Health

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and often occurs in seniors.

It affects memory, language and the part of the brain that controls thought. It’s estimated that more than 5 million Americans suffer from the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 5 percent of Americans ages 65 to 74 have Alzheimer’s. The population with Alzheimer’s could reach 16 million by 2050.

Caregiving for a person with Alzheimer’s can be emotionally taxing, require a lot of patience, and be expensive. There are medications available for Alzheimer’s patients, but the jury is out on their effectiveness.

Unfortunately, the drugs also have side effects that may include dizziness, drowsiness and fainting – conditions that may increase the risk of falls. If more than one of these drugs is prescribed, side effects could be worse.

Caregivers should closely monitor people with Alzheimer’s disease and report symptoms or side effects to doctors.

 

Incontinence Issues May Catch Caregivers Off Guard

Aging adults may also suffer from incontinence, which is the involuntary loss of urine. Incontinence can occur in seniors who suffered a stroke, developed dementia or experienced other changes associated with aging.

Women experience urinary incontinence twice as often as men, due to the effects of pregnancy, childbirth and menopause.

Urinary incontinence can be a minor annoyance (losing small amounts of urine while sneezing, laughing or coughing) or become debilitating if people stay inside to avoid embarrassment.

It is important for caregivers to know that many types of incontinence are treatable. Also, there are ways to ease the stress of the condition:

  •  Don’t embarrass or criticize a person who has an accident.
  • Be supportive, patient and put yourself in the shoes of the person suffering from it.
  • Help the person manage their consumption of liquids.
  • Remind and encourage them to use the bathroom regularly.

Incontinence can be treated in a variety of ways. It may start with behavior modification. Women can do exercises to strengthen bladder muscles. Medical options are available too.
There are also medications for overactive bladders, medical devices and surgical procedures that may be good options. People faced with incontinence issues should discuss their options with a doctor.

Caregivers should be aware, however, that some treatments can lead to additional complications.

 

Mesh Treatments for Incontinence Linked to Injuries, Subject of Lawsuits

A common solution for female patients with incontinence is a bladder sling. During this surgery, a narrow strip of synthetic mesh is inserted to relieve pressure on the bladder. Unfortunately, when the mesh is implanted through the vagina, there can be serious complications.

Before choosing procedures involving vaginal mesh, patients and caregivers should be aware of the dangers associated with using the device.

Complications can include tissue erosion, nerve damage, infection and internal organ damage. These injuries often require revision surgeries.

More than 30,000 women in the United States filed lawsuits after being injured by transvaginal mesh devices, including bladder slings.

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Knowing about medical issues that occur to seniors can help a caregiver do a few things: understand and manage the issue, figure out treatment options and identify possible complications and side effects that come as a result.

Caregiving comes with challenges and times of stress, but knowing what to do when situations occur may ease the intimidation that may come with the newfound set of responsibilities.

 

Julian Hills is a staff writer for Drugwatch.com. He has a background in newspaper and television journalism. He studied Communication and English at Florida State University.

 

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Alzheimer’s Disease. [Fact sheet]. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/aging/aginginfo/alzheimers.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.) Caregiving for Alzheimer’s Disease or other Dementia. [Fact sheet]. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/aging/caregiving/index.htm

National Institute on Aging. (n.d.). Alzheimer’s Disease Medications Fact Sheet [Fact sheet]. Retrieved from http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/alzheimers-disease-medications-fact-sheet

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Urinary Incontinence in Women. [Fact sheet]. Retrieved from http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/uiwomen/

U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. (n.d.). Urinary Incontinence In Women [Abstract]. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1273322/

Alzheimer’s Association. (n.d.). Incontinence. Retrieved from https://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-incontinence.asp

An ounce of prevention is worth…

The Center on Disease Control in partnership with HHS’ Administration on Aging, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a disturbing report highlighting that many older adults are not receiving critical preventive care that could help them stay healthy. Entitled Closing the Gap: Enhancing Use of Clinical Preventive Services Among Older Adults (pdf), the report outlines and encourages the use of preventive services that might even save a Senior’s life and raises awareness of services that are currently underused by the 65+ population.

In order of importance, the report advises that Caregivers and Seniors immediately begin making use of the following services in order to promote healthier living and longer life expectancy.

Flu vaccinations, Pneumonia vaccinations, Breast cancer screenings, Colorectal cancer screenings, Diabetes screening, Lipid disorder screening, Osteoporosis screening, Smoking cessation counseling, Alcohol misuse screenings and counseling, Aspirin use, Blood pressure screenings, Cervical cancer screenings, Depression screenings and counseling, Obesity screenings and counseling, and Shingles vaccinations.

You can ALSO download the report here (PDF).