A 2013 study on the effectiveness of flu vaccinations showed that 80-90% of flu-related deaths and 50-70% of flu-related hospitalizations happen to people aged 65 or older. The senior citizen population is so vulnerable to influenza because our immune systems get weaker as we get older. Factors other than aging can cause a weakened immune system in the elderly, and this isn’t the only factor leading to higher rates of influenza in this population. Whatever the cause, senior citizens should ask a medical professional about getting a flu shot.
The flu weakens the immune response
Senior citizens are susceptible to contracting other illnesses that negatively impact the immune system. Autoimmune diseases are a main cause. These diseases cause the body to attack healthy cells. They are the number one cause of death for women over 65. Some examples of these diseases are diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and Multiple Sclerosis. They are treated by suppressing the body’s natural immune response in some cases. All these things repress our ability to fight illnesses like the flu, making it even more important for seniors to get a flu shot.
The flu leads to contracting other diseases
Just as other diseases may make seniors more likely to suffer from the flu, the flu virus may make them more likely to develop other health problems, like ear infections, sinusitis or pneumonia. These can be fatal illnesses among the senior citizen population.
The flu exacerbates preexisting conditions
Senior citizens often have chronic conditions that the flu may exacerbate. Having the flu may make any illnesses that affect the respiratory system like asthma or emphysema worse. Older people with heart disease, an unfortunately large segment of the US population of seniors, are likely to have greater difficulty if they catch the flu virus.
The flu vaccine is less effective on seniors than younger persons. However, recent advancements in vaccinations has produced a stronger-dose medication that is safe for older people. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the double-dose vaccination is over 24% more effective in helping seniors recover from the virus. These antiviral drugs, when taken early during the first signs of flu or seasonally, may help save lives, and will at least help make the later years more comfortable.