Older adults face more risks than young adults when they take medication. Some of these risks are simply because many older adults have several chronic conditions and take different medications for each. Taking multiple medications—both prescribed and over-the-counter (OTC)—increases the risk that the medications will interact in a way that causes problems. Remembering when to take multiple medications also can be a challenge. Other risks are because of changes in the way the body processes medicines.
Allergy medication doses may need to be lowered for older adults.
Antihistamines that cause drowsiness can cause confusion in older adults. These medications can make them more likely to fall and hurt themselves. Newer antihistamines don't cause drowsiness. These medications are better choices for older adults. Antihistamines in general also can cause urinary problems in older men with benign prostatic hypertrophy.
Pseudoephedrine is the only OTC oral decongestant available. It is sold alone or in combination with an antihistamine. Pseudoephedrine can cause rapid heartbeat, irregular heartbeat, and increased blood pressure. People with hypertension or heart disease should be cautious when using it.
Many older adults don't get their recommended shots. These vaccinations, however, are as important for older adults as childhood immunizations are for children. Your immune system slowly decreases in strength as you age. That's why you should make sure your shots are up-to-date.
If you have a chronic health condition or a disease that affects your immune system, you may need to follow a different immunization schedule. Check with your health care provider to see which shots you need.
Older adults should get a pneumonia shot at age 65. If you had one before age 65, you should get a second shot five to 10 years after the initial shot.
The new 2011 CDC flu vaccine recommendation is that everyone 6 months or older should get a flu vaccination every year.
Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis
As you age, some of the protection offered by childhood vaccinations begins to decrease. This makes you more susceptible to disease. Currently, almost all people admitted to the hospital because of tetanus are older adults. If you are older than 65, you should get a booster for diphtheria and tetanus every 10 years. If you are younger than 65, get a tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis booster once and a tetanus-diphtheria booster every 10 years afterward.
Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory illness that is extremely dangerous to infants and children. It can be fatal to young infants. Adults may also get the disease, however the symptoms are usually more mild. This is why it is very important that adults also get vaccinated against pertussis, especially families and caregivers of new infants.
The Tdap vaccine, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis, has a new 2011 recommendation that all adults should receive at least one dose in their lifetime. Adults over the age of 65 who anticipate being around infants should also get the vaccine, regardless if they have already received the Td (Tetanus and diphtheria) booster.
You should get a polio booster if you are around children who received a live polio vaccine. This will eliminate the possibility of developing polio yourself. This is no longer a problem in the United States because the live polio vaccine has been discontinued. Children in this country are now given the inactivated poliovirus (IPV) vaccine. If you are traveling to areas of the world where polio still occurs and you are unvaccinated, incompletely vaccinated, or don't know your vaccination status, you should get the IPV vaccine. Two doses of IPV are given at intervals of four to eight weeks. A third dose is given six to 12 months after the second dose.
Varicella (chickenpox and shingles)
Except for pregnant women, all adults should receive two doses of the varicella vaccine if they haven’t been previously vaccinated or had chickenpox in the past, or were born in the U.S. after 1980.
People older than 60 should consider getting the shingles vaccine. Shingles is a disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After an attack of chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in certain nerve tissue. As people age, the virus can reappear as shingles. Shingles affects about one million people each year. It appears as clusters of blisters that develop on one side of the body. The blisters can cause severe pain that may last for weeks, months, or years after the virus reappears. The vaccine reduces the risk for shingles by 51 percent and reduces the severity of the disease by 67 percent. Those who have had shingles should also consider getting the shingles vaccine to prevent or decrease the severity of a reoccurrence.