Shingles and the elderly

Shingles and the elderly

An alarming number of elderly people do not understand the seriousness of shingles and its implications. Anyone who had Chicken Pox can get shingles. This age group is also susceptible to serious complications.

Most older Australians have had chickenpox at some point in their life, and shingles (also known as herpes zoster) is caused by a reactivation of the chickenpox virus in the body, usually many years later,” said Professor Macartney.

“Someone with shingles experiences a rash, often with pain which can develop into long-lasting, difficult to treat nerve pain,” she said. “The vaccine reduces the risk of this long-term pain.”

The Australian Prescriber reported that people over 85 have a 50% chance of developing shingles, yet only a third of 70-year old’s have had the free vaccination. This is primarily because aging takes a toll on an individual’s immune system, making it harder for them to fight off infection. Stressful life events, immune-compromising conditions such as being treated for cancer, and even the common cold can weaken immunity. [1]

Complications from shingles in the elderly can lead to serious, long-term health problems. They range from bacterial skin infections that can cause scarring and narcotizing fasciitis to hearing and vision loss, encephalitis, transverse myelitis, peripheral motor neuropathy, and postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).

PHN occurs when the shingles rash goes away, but the pain doesn’t, and it can last for months or even years. PHN pain is felt in the same area where the rash was, and for some people it’s the worst and longest lasting part of shingles. Sufferers can experience depression, anxiety, confusion, trouble sleeping, and weight loss. Many have trouble with simple daily activities like dressing, bathing, and socializing due to the debilitating pain.[2]

It is important that the elderly speak to their doctor about the vaccines. If they have a weak immune system, the shingles vaccine is not recommended.



Over 65% of 70-79-year-old are missing out on free shingles vaccinations! Did you know that vaccines for shingles is free for people aged between 70 and 79? It may be time to educate your elderly patients. .