For most of us, we would have contracted chickenpox as a child. One of the most common reassurances is that we are unlikely to recontract the infection. However, it is possible to experience a return of the virus in our lifetime. One third of the American population is likely to experience this returning infection, otherwise called shingles.
There is no fixed timeframe as to when we will contract it in our lives, however, older adults are more susceptible to concerning side effects and serious complications. It is therefore important to monitor for signs and treat it as soon as possible.
What is Shingles?
Before we get started, what even is shingles? Well, it is caused by the varicella-zoster virus which is also responsible for chickenpox. When we contract chickenpox as children, the virus lies dormant in our nervous system even after we have recovered. This dormant virus will then be able to reactivate at a later date and inflame the nerves in that section of your body, leading to shingles.
Common symptoms will include rashes that occur in a single strip that have fluid-filled blisters. It is also likely that you will experience headaches, an upset stomach, chills, and fever when you are coping with shingles. These symptoms will last for two to four weeks and are largely linked to weakened immune system.
Shingles In Older Adults
While the symptoms listed above are what most of the population experiences, older adults have shown more severe complications and risks. In fact, shingles have been linked to hearing issues, problems with balance, pneumonia, and even blindness. One of the most common complications in older adults is that they will experience postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) which is long-term nerve pain. This will happen in the area where the rash has appeared and will continue long after the rash has disappeared – lasting for up to months or even years. For many, this pain can be so severe that medication will need to be prescribed and taken on a long term basis to manage any arising discomfort.
There are available vaccinations to protect the population from the onset of shingles. However, if you or your loved one contracts it, recovery in a supportive environment is essential. As soon as you notice any of the symptoms of shingles, it is imperative that you contact a doctor as soon as possible for treatment. Antiviral medications have proven to be able to help reduce the severity and length of time that people cope with the virus.
If you think that your loved one is suffering from shingles, it is an important time to consider if they are getting the support and assistance that they need with their everyday activities. This is especially so if they are living alone. If so, a good solution would be to opt for respite care or other options that are offered in a senior living community. Not only will they have access to supportive care at all times in a day, but both you and your loved ones can rest assured that they can fully focus on their recovery.