A Resource for Family Caregivers of Seniors
Shingles: What Your Senior Loved Ones – and You – Need to Know

Shingles: What Your Senior Loved Ones – and You – Need to Know

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Shingles affects more than one million people each year in the United States, with an estimated healthcare cost over a half billion dollars annually.

1 in 3 people in the United States will develop shingles in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Shingles is a very painful condition caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Shingles is known for its blistering skin rash, often occurring at nerve endings. Once you have chicken pox, the virus becomes inactive and years later will become active in the form of shingles. No one really knows why the virus becomes active — at least not yet.

People over age 60 are more likely to get shingles and those over 65 are seven times more likely to get it. Usually only one attack of shingles will affect each person. If your senior’s immune system is weak, he or she will be more likely to get shingles.  The average cost of treating shingles is $525 per person.

Symptoms of Shingles

  • Pain, burning or tingling usually occurs first
  • Rash often on the spine around to the abdomen or chest as well as the face, eyes and ears
  • Red skin patches followed by blisters
  • Blisters open forming small sores that take about 2-3 weeks to heal
  • Other symptoms include joint pain, headache, fever, or swollen glands

Diagnosis and Treatment

The doctor or healthcare provider can diagnose shingles with a physical exam and questioning. There is no lab test that will diagnose shingles but a skin test may be taken to check for infection.

Medication may be prescribed to fight the virus, such as the antiviral Acyclovir. It can shorten the course of symptoms and reduce the disease’s pain. Also, steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed to reduce the swelling and pain. There is no cure for shingles.

Cold compresses, soothing baths, such as oatmeal or starch, and lotions such as calamine may help to relieve any itching and pain. Those afflicted should avoid picking or scratching the rash or blisters. Your senior can cover the sores to prevent others from coming in contact with the drainage.

While shingles is not considered contagious, it is advised to keep seniors diagnosed with the disease away from pregnant women and those who have not had chicken pox, especially when the sores are open and draining.

In the area affected by shingles, your senior may have pain for many months or even years. In the nerves that are affected, he or she may have muscle weakness and even paralysis in motor function.

Shingles Prevention Efforts

Have your senior vaccinated against shingles if over 60, even if they have already had a case of shingles, according to the CDC. The vaccine can prevent or lessen shingles.

Your senior should avoid contact with people who have an active case of shingles with open, draining sores.

If your senior has never had chicken pox, get a chicken pox vaccine.

Knowing as much as possible about shingles can help if your senior develops the condition. Getting treatment early may help lessen the severity and shorten the duration of the outbreak. If you suspect that your senior has shingles, seek medical care quickly.

Have you been through this with your senior? If you have any tips to share, we would love to hear your story!

3 Responses to Shingles: What Your Senior Loved Ones – and You – Need to Know

  1. Hmm… I’m really not that familiar with shingles that really affect our seniors. I normally read and hear about dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc. Good info. I learned a lot on this post.

    • Barry Birkett says:

      Thank you for stopping by, James. Glad we could provide helpful information. We really appreciate your comment because it lets us know that we are providing information that is of value.

  2. Pam Soule says:

    My 85 year old, healthy, vibrant mother came down with shingles which lead to her death! This is not anything to mess with!
    She came down with the usual signs of pain and blistering, she had it along one side of her neck, up the side of her face and into her eye. The pain was excruciating!
    After a few weeks we learned that she had developed Postherpetic Neuralgia, the pain from nerve damage caused by shingles.
    From there she was on large doses of Gabapentin and Vicodin, which basically put her to sleep and made her totally bed bound. Before we knew it pneumonia set in due to her ability to move…

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