Healthy Geezer Issues
The Healthy Geezer answers the health questions of “geezers”, or lovable seniors who are wondering what is going on with these bodies of ours. It is written by Fred Cicetti, a senior who has been writing about health issues for many years. Each subject is addressed in a question and answer format. Following is a list of Healthy Geezer Issues:
• Sleeping Better with Age
Q. What is shingles?
A. Shingles is a painful skin disease caused by the chickenpox virus awakening from an inactive state to attack a person’s body again. Some people report fever and weakness when the disease starts, and in two to three days, a red, blotchy rash develops. The rash erupts into small blisters that look like chickenpox. And it’s very painful.
Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles, and half of all Americans get shingles by the time they are 80 years old. While shingles occurs in people of all ages, it is most common in people between 60 and 80 years of age.
After a person has shingles or chickenpox, the virus stays in a person’s body for life the rest of his/her life. It stays inactive until a person’s immunity is down. Since aging people are more likely to have decreased immunity, they are more likely to get shingles.
The inactive virus rests in nerve cells near the spine. When it reactivates, it follows a single nerve path to the skin. The shingles rash helps with its diagnosis; the rash erupts in a belt-like pattern on only one side of the body, or it appears on one side of the face. It usually begins as a patch of red dots which become blisters.
Shingles is treated with antiviral and pain medications. Although the antivirals don’t cure shingles, they weaken the virus, reduce the pain and speed up the healing. The antiviral medications work faster if they are started in 72 hours from the start of the rash.
The disease’s name comes from the Latin word cingulum, which means belt. The virus that causes shingles is varicella-zoster, which combines the Latin word for little pox with the Greek word for girdle. In Italy, shingles is often called St. Anthony’s fire.
If a person has had chickenpox, shingles is not contagious. If he or she has never had chickenpox, the virus can be caught from contact with the fluid in shingles blisters. However, although the person will not get shingles, they could still get chickenpox.
The pain of shingles can be severe. If it is strong and lasts for months or years, it is called post-herpetic neuralgia. Persistent pain is a common symptom in people over 60. However, most victims of shingles overcome their symptoms in about a month, and the odds are against them getting shingles again.
Outbreaks that start on the face or eyes can cause vision or hearing problems. Even permanent blindness can result if the cornea of the eye is affected. In patients with immune deficiency, the rash can be much more extensive than usual and the illness can be complicated by pneumonia. These cases, while more serious, are rarely fatal.
A vaccine for shingles, called Zostavax, has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in people 60 years old and older to prevent shingles. However, Zostavax does not treat shingles nor post-herpetic neuralgia once it develops.
Sources: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institute on Aging, and NIH Senior Health.
Sleeping Better with Age
- Do older people need more sleep?Seniors need about the same amount of sleep as younger adults—seven to nine hours a night.
A. Unfortunately, many older adults don’t get the sleep they need, because they often have more trouble falling asleep. Also, older people often sleep less deeply and wake up more often throughout the night, which may be why they may nap more during the daytime.
Nighttime sleep schedules may change with age too. Many older adults tend to get sleepier earlier in the evening and awaken earlier in the morning.
Many people believe that poor sleep is a normal part of aging, but it is not. Sleep patterns change as we age, but disturbed sleep and waking up tired every day are not part of normal aging. If a person has trouble sleeping, they should see their doctor or a sleep specialist.
Tips for Sleeping Better with Age
1. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time, even on weekends. Sticking to a regular bedtime and wake time schedule helps keep you stay “in sync” with your body’s regular 24-hour internal rhythm, which is called circadian rhythm.
2. Try not to nap too much during the day because if you do, you might be less sleepy at night.
3. Try to exercise at regular times each day. Exercising regularly will help you sleep more soundly. Try to finish your workout at least three hours before bedtime.
4. Try to get some natural light in the afternoon each day.
5. Be careful about what you eat. Don’t drink beverages with caffeine late in the day because caffeine is a stimulant and can keep you awake. Also, if you like a snack before bed, a warm beverage and a few crackers may help.
6. Don’t drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes to help you sleep. Even small amounts of alcohol can make it harder to stay asleep, and smoking is dangerous for many reasons, including the hazard of falling asleep with a lit cigarette. Also, the nicotine in cigarettes is a stimulant.
7. Create a safe and comfortable place to sleep. Make sure there are locks on all doors and smoke alarms on each floor. A lamp that’s easy to turn on and a phone by your bed may be helpful. The room should be dark, well ventilated, and as quiet as possible.
8. Develop a bedtime routine. Do the same things each night to tell your body that it’s time to wind down. Some people watch the evening news, read a book, or soak in a warm bath.
9. Use your bedroom only for sleeping. After turning off the light, give yourself about 15 minutes to fall asleep. If you are still awake and not drowsy, get out of bed. When you get sleepy, go back to bed.
10. Try not to worry about sleep. Some people find that playing mental games is helpful. For example, tell themselves it’s five minutes before they have to get up and they’re just trying to get a few extra winks.
If a person is so tired during the day that they can’t function normally and if this condition lasts for more than 2 to 3 weeks, they should see their doctor or a sleep disorders specialist.
Sources: National Institute on Aging and the Mayo Clinic