Shingles is generally and age-related disease that affects the nerves. It is more prevalent in adults over the age of 50 and the risk of getting shingles continues to increase with age. As is the case with any illness, it can be challenging and stressful to care for a loved one who is dealing with shingles. Understanding of the basics about shingles and how it impacts the body can help caregivers to know what their loved ones need as they work through it and attempt to heal.
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, occurs when the varicella zoster virus (VZV) is reactivated in the nerve cells and typically develops into a painful rash. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox that so many of us had as children. The varicella zoster virus can remain within the body and can become active again in adulthood causing shingles.
Shingles impacts nerves throughout the body and causes a rash or blisters on the skin. Common symptoms of shingles are as follows:
The pain associated with shingles can be severe and debilitating. Older adults often experience more extreme cases of shingles which can last for significant periods of time and be difficult to deal with.
A case of shingles can stick around for a few weeks (often between three and five). It is important that seniors and their caregivers keep a close eye on how things are going to make sure they can detect any changes in the progression of the disease. This helps to manage the development of the symptoms and handle any complications that may arise. If pain and distress become unmanageable, it is likely time to seek the help of a medical professional.
If you are caring for a senior loved one with shingles, there are some things that can help guide the way to help you care for and support them. When a case of shingles is active, there are some measures to take to protect others and to ease the discomfort until the pain and rash subsides.
In terms of preventing the spread of shingles to others, it is important to keep the rash covered and avoid touching or scratching it. Shingles can be passed through direct contact to anyone who has not already had chickenpox and built up an immunity to the virus. Hands should also be washed often and contact with vulnerable individuals should be prevented until the rash has crusted.
Talking to a doctor can illuminate strategies that might help ease the pain and manage the symptoms of shingles in a safe way for the affected individual. Things such as soothing baths, lotions, loose clothing, and cold compresses are easy to implement and can often help to provide a little relief.
Shingles can be a painful and difficult thing to deal with, but with some support and care seniors can manage their symptoms and get through.
Generally, the most effective way to prevent shingles is by getting vaccinated. Although this method is not always 100% effective, research shows that a full shingles vaccination is up to 90% effective in preventing shingles and Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN), which is a chronic condition that can follow shingles in the form of an intensely painful rash.
There are two types of vaccine options to help prevent shingles for older adults in Canada.
Shingrix is a non-living vaccine that is administer in two doses and is recommended for people age 50 and older. It generally offers 5 or more years of protection.
Zostavax is a live vaccine which is given as a single injection, is recommended for people age 60 and older, and also provides roughly 5 years of protection.