What Older Australians Need To Know To Protect Their Health

Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After chickenpox, the varicella zoster virus lays dormant in the nerves and can reactivate at any time, most commonly in older age, causing shingles.

It is characterised by a blistering rash which appears as a band or belt on one side of the body, however shingles is not just a rash. Some people affected by shingles also experience severe, chronic and debilitating nerve pain, that can last for months or even years, known as postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). This pain has been described as throbbing, burning, stabbing and sharp.

New survey findings released in August 2017 show almost half of older Australians between the ages of 70 and 79 are failing to adequately look after their health, and worryingly seven out of ten 70-79 year old’s do not know they are at high risk of shingles.

Patti Newton, a well-loved Australian in her 70s, a grandparent and someone who has experienced the pain and debilitating nature of shingles first hand, said, “this new research shows that older Australians need to get better at protecting our health and making sure we are a bit more selfish when it comes to our own health. As a mum and grandmother, I need to make sure I stay fit and healthy so I can be there for my family and maximise my quality of life. It’s important that we speak to our doctor about Government funded shingles prevention and treatment options.”

The new research also uncovered that over a quarter (27 per cent) of 70-79 year old Australians have had shingles, a condition not only more common over the age of 70, but with an increased chance of complications at this age.

Geriatrician Associate Professor Michael Woodward AM said, “Shingles can strike at any time and we don’t know how severe it will be when it hits. We do know that the chance of developing shingles, along with the risk of complications, increase with age, particularly over the age of 70.”

“Although there is no cure for shingles and we know one in three may develop shingles in their lifetime. Additionally, 40 per cent of Australians aged 70-79 are not aware that there are Government funded shingles prevention and treatment options,” A/Prof Woodward continued.

The research also found 60 per cent of 70-79-year olds admit to not eating a balanced diet, over half (52 per cent) are drinking more alcohol than recommended, and almost half (49 per cent) are not maintaining an active lifestyle. Additionally, just under half of this group (46 per cent) prioritise the importance of the health of other family members over their own personal health.

More about shingles

  • 97 per cent of Australian adults have been exposed to the chicken pox virus and are therefore at risk of shingles.
  • Shingles can also lead to other complications such as bacterial skin infection, neurological complications and may also increase the risk of stroke in the following six months.
  • The new research found that of the estimated 387,000 70-79-year olds that have had shingles, 41 per cent also suffered from nerve pain or PHN.

This article was written by the team at Seqirus, a National Retirement Living Summit 2017 sponsor. Seqirus, a CSL company, is a leading provider of essential vaccines, pharmaceutical products and diagnostic reagents.