What Is Shingles and What Causes It?

You can think of shingles as the one-two punch of infections. Anyone who ever gets it had a case of the chickenpox first, often many decades earlier. The reason these two conditions are paired up is they come from the same virus.

Chickenpox causes itchy blisters that might start on your back, chest, and face and spread to the rest of your body. Shingles is a rash with shooting pain. It usually shows up on just one side of your body.

If you start to feel tingly and itchy on one side of your torso and then notice a rash, call your doctor right away so they can examine you and determine if you have shingles. When it gets into your body, the first problem it causes is chickenpox, also called varicella. You may think of it as a childhood disease, but adults can get it, too. After the chickenpox runs its itchy course, the virus retreats to nerve tissues near your spinal cord and brain, where it hides out. Doctors don’t know why, but sometimes the virus “wakes up” and travels along nerve fibers to your skin. That’s when it lands its second punch —shingles, also called herpes zoster.

Who gets it? If you’ve had chickenpox, you’re more likely to get shingles if you are 50 or older, are under a lot of stress, have had a physical trauma, or take long-term steroids or other medicines that can weaken your immune system. A weakened immune system might wake the virus up. Also people who have cancer, HIV, or another disease that lower your body’s defenses are at a higher risk.

What can you do to prevent shingles? Get vaccinated. The FDA has approved two shingles vaccines: Shingrix and Zostavax. Shingrix is newer and is preferred over Zostavax because it is considered 90% effective. The CDC recommends people 50 and older get it, even if you’ve had shingles before. You should also get it even if you have previously had the Zostavax vaccine.

Holly Zielinski is the Chief Operating Officer for SeniorsPlus.

June is National Safety Month

Observed annually in June, National Safety Month focuses on reducing leading causes of injury and death in our homes and communities. This year’s safety campaign is focused on Hazard Recognition, Slips, Trips and Falls, Fatigue and Impairment; all very important topics. For this month’s column I’d like to focus on slips, trips and falls.

Each year, millions of people 65 and older fall. In fact, more than 1 out of 4 older people falls each year. Falling once doubles your chances that you will fall again.

What Can Happen After a Fall? Many falls do not cause injuries. But 1 out of 5 falls does cause a serious injury such as a broken bone or a head injury. These injuries can make it hard for a person to get around, do everyday activities, or live on their own. An older person who falls and hits their head should see their doctor right away to make sure they don’t have a brain injury.

Many people who fall, even if they’re not injured, become afraid of falling. This fear may cause a person to cut down on their everyday activities resulting in isolation. When a person is less active, they become weaker and this increases their chances of falling.

What Conditions Make You More Likely to Fall? Research has identified many conditions that contribute to falling. These are called risk factors. Many risk factors can be changed or modified to help prevent falls. They include: lower body weakness, foot pain, vision problems, difficulties with walking or balance, and some medications. There are also environmental hazards to be aware of such as broken or even steps, throw rugs, extension cords across walking areas, and clutter. The more risk factors a person has, the greater their chances of falling.

What Can You Do to Prevent Falls? Get a falls risk assessment. SeniorsPlus and other community agencies offer these. Do exercises that make your legs stronger and improve your balance. Sign up for a Tai Chi or Matter of Balance class. Locations can be found at healthylivingforme.org. You can also call SeniorsPlus at 1-800-427-1241. You should also have your eyes checked once a year, and be sure to update your eyeglasses if needed. Get rid of things you could trip over, add grab bars inside and outside your tub or shower and next to the toilet, put railings on both sides of stairs, and make sure your home has lots of light by adding more or brighter light bulbs.

Holly Zielinski is the Chief Operating Officer for SeniorsPlus.

May is Older Americans Month!

“Connect, Create, Contribute.” These three words comprise this year’s theme for Older Americans Month.

These are powerful words that discourage isolation and encourage purpose. Isolation and lack of purpose can fuel depression and loneliness in anyone, but older people are especially vulnerable.

There are five agencies on aging in Maine designed to function as “one-stop-shops” to answer questions from older people, or from any individuals with disabilities, about a wide range of in-home, community-based, and long-term services. These agencies also offer educational and nutrition programs designed to encourage socialization.

SeniorsPlus is the designated Agency on Aging for Androscoggin, Franklin, and Oxford counties. We are your trusted source for information, options, and services designed to meet your needs. Most of these services are free.

So how can you “Connect, Create, Contribute”?
• Connect with friends, family, and services that support participation.
• Create by engaging in activities that promote learning, health, and personal enrichment.
• Contribute time, talent, and life experience to benefit others.

Communities that encourage the contributions of older adults are stronger. By engaging and supporting all community members, we recognize that older people play a key role in the vitality of our neighborhoods, networks, and lives.

Older Americans Month 2019 will include suggestions, resources, and material to celebrate older Americans and the communities of which they are a vital part. Visit acl.gov/oam in early 2019 for ways to get started, and starting now, promote the observance on social media using #OAM19 and #ConnectCreateContribute.

Everyone benefits when everyone can participate. We encourage you to connect, create, and contribute for stronger and more diverse communities this May, and throughout the year.

SeniorsPlus is here when you need us. Get to know us before you need us! We will listen and support you and your family through the changes that life brings.

Holly Zielinski is the Chief Operating Officer for SeniorsPlus.