Thursday, Jun. 11, 2009

At the Doctor's Office

Vaccinations aren't just for kids. Older adults should update their inoculations, including a tetanus booster every 10 years and an annual flu shot, and start new ones, like the pneumonia vaccine, that are particularly important after age 60. Dr. Rosanne Leipzig, vice chair of the department of geriatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, also recommends Zostavax, a vaccine that studies have shown reduces the risk of shingles — a painful condition caused by the reactivation of the varicella zoster virus, the same one that causes chicken pox — by half in older adults. Apart from regular vaccinations, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force suggests routine bone-density screenings for osteoporosis for women over 65. Leipzig says older patients should also be screened for balance problems and discuss fall prevention with their doctor. "More than a third of older adults fall each year," she says, which leads to serious injury and disability. Indeed, one-quarter of older Americans who suffer a hip fracture from a fall — which research suggests may often be caused by poor balance resulting from an inner-ear disorder — die within six months of the injury.