What You Should Know About Shingles in the Elderly

November 3, 2021
Did you have chickenpox as a child? You might remember how itchy and painful they were. One in three American adults will experience that same virus again in their lives. It’s called “shingles,” and older people are particularly likely to contract it. Shingles in the elderly requires very careful attention because the side effects can be serious if it’s left untreated.

Shingles is a viral infection. It’s caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus. Once you’ve had chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in your nervous system for the rest of your life. It’s not fully understood why shingles reactivates, but scientists believe it is linked to a weakened immune system. That’s why older people are at higher risk than younger people. Unfortunately, shingles in the elderly is also more severe than in the young.

The shingles virus can reactivate and cause a painful, burning rash, most often wrapping around one side of the torso. There are fluid-filled blisters along the rash, which scab over in 7 to 10 days and clear up in 2 to 4 weeks. In addition to the rash, symptoms of shingles can include fever, headache, chills, an upset stomach. Although rare, if left untreated, more serious complications like blindness, pneumonia, brain inflammation, hearing problems, heart attacks, stroke or even death can occur. The most common complication of shingles is postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), nerve pain that can last for months or even years after the infection. This pain can be severe enough to be debilitating.

The good news is that there are several anti-viral medications that are known to be effective against the virus that causes shingles. These medicines can shorten the length and severity of the virus. The person with shingles will still need a restful and supportive environment in which to recover, because the discomfort experienced with shingles can make it difficult to perform everyday tasks. Treatments that can provide relief for shingles symptoms include pain medication, wet compresses, calamine lotion, oatmeal baths, and wearing loose-fitting clothes.

The best course of action is to get a shingles vaccine. A vaccine called Shingrix is recommended for adults aged 50 and older and is available through a physician’s office or pharmacy. If you or an older person you care for had chickenpox as a child, it’s important to talk to a doctor about getting the shingles vaccine to avoid this painful condition.

At BrightStar Care, we know that navigating the world of healthcare can sometimes be challenging, especially when you are caring for an elderly relative. That’s why we work hard to deliver the right care for your loved one and be a partner you can turn to for support. Because we believe that caring is more than just a job, our nurses, CNAs, and caregivers offer the most professional, compassionate care available. In the comforting, familiar surroundings of home, we offer a full range of care services to meet your loved one’s needs and help you when you need it most. Contact us or call 866-618-7827 to learn more about our services and let us know what we can do for you.