So for decades, I have worked in the aging care business, but there is nothing like growing older to really shed light on the aging process. There are things that sneak up on you. There are things that no one tells you about aging. There are things that we should know about, and combat if possible. Today, I’ll cover one scourge of getting older, shingles.
As it turns out, anyone can who has had chicken pox can get shingles—that means 95 percent of adults are at risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Unfortunately, as we age, the risk of getting shingles rises. In fact, half of people living to age 85 have had or will get shingles. And among those who get it, more than one-third will develop serious complications, such as severe nerve pain, blindness or pneumonia.
Research puts shingles on a par with congestive heart failure, diabetes and depression for disrupting a person’s quality of life. It can have a major impact on morbidity, lost work productivity and quality of life in older adults—and most people don’t even realize it’s a cause for concern. Shingles affects about 1 million Americans each year — almost half of those cases are among people age 60 or older.
So what is shingles? It occurs when the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) — the same virus that causes chickenpox — is reactivated in the body. For many years, chickenpox remains dormant in the nerve roots, and then as you get older and your immunity declines, they reemerge.
It starts as a painful rash that typically blisters in a band on one side of the body, often on the face or torso. Be on the look out for early warning signs, such as pain, itching or tingling before a blistering rash appears several days later. It can also appear above an eye or on the side of the face or neck. In addition to the rash, more than one-third who get shingles go on to develop severe nerve pain that can last for months or even years. Mine appeared IN my eye, about 15 years ago and it still gives me fits.
What you can do? The CDC recommends that everyone age 60 and older should get a one-time shingles vaccination called Zostavax. Even if you’ve already had shingles, you still need the vaccination because reoccurring cases are possible. Check out zostavax.com for more information or to locate a vaccine provider in your area.
No matter the condition, whether you’re an older adult who is frail, or on multiple medications, you should still talk to your doctor about getting the vaccination. The main concern is if you’re on immunosuppressant agents, like high-dose prednisone or cancer chemotherapy—then you should not be getting the shingles vaccine.
More insider-aging scoop soon. For now, be sure you treat shingles seriously, and look into getting the vaccine. You’ll never know what hit you, if you wait until the shingles appear.