It’s time for the elderly to consider the flu vaccine once again

A weekly column on eldercare by Maple Ridge news columnist Graham Hookey

The beautiful colours of fall are a reminder that the weather is changing, and windows will soon be closed everywhere all the time, and the spread of flu viruses will begin.

It’s time for the elderly to consider the flu vaccine once again.

One of the challenges we face as we age is that our immune system weakens.

While we easily resisted and knocked out viral and bacterial attacks when we were young, our immune systems are less robust and need more time to assist in resisting such attacks as we age.

The biggest purpose of the flu vaccine, in all honesty, is to simply put the immune system into gear, not only to create antibodies, but to generate a level of readiness that will help with all viral and bacterial challenges.

As a general rule, the structure of a flu vaccine is determined by the various strains of flu that circulated the year before.

Quite often, the flu that becomes dominant is slightly different than those of the year before – flu viruses tend to morph regularly.

Still, by having an immune system with some similar antibodies and generally fired up to go to work, the effects of even a changed virus can be diminished.

The real purpose of a flu vaccine is not to prevent the flu entirely, but to reduce the severity.

For the elderly, that may well be the difference between life and death.

While talking to a doctor about a flu vaccine, it might be wise to address two other vaccines, as well.

A pneumonia vaccine can greatly reduce the risk of catching pneumonia if the respiratory system is challenged.

Again, if the immune system is fighting off a virus, the pneumonia bacteria may well pose a greater threat.

In fact, it is often pneumonia that is the greatest threat once an elderly person becomes bedridden.

The second one to consider is a vaccine for shingles.

After all, when the immune system becomes compromised or preoccupied with fighting off other viral or bacterial agents, the Varicella-Zoster virus, a version of the chicken pox virus, often comes to the forefront.

Shingles is a long and nasty condition that can make life very uncomfortable.

Although not a serious threat to life, the rash and pain that accompanies an attack is very unsettling, disrupts sleep a great deal and can last for years.

If there is one thing we understand about sickness and the elderly, it is that it tends to be like a house of cards.

One condition can begin a decline in immune response that opens the door for many other conditions.

There may be a variety of opinions about when this cascade of vaccines should be considered, as health levels and immune system strengths can vary widely.

But as a general rule, if you are over the age of 60, it’s time to seriously consider protecting yourself.

And if you are younger, but have a compromised immune system due to any health conditions, then you should do the same.

Graham Hookey writes about education, parenting and eldercare. Email him at ghookey@yahoo.com.

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