Don't be like Bob

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

We once had a neighbor who hand-washed and waxed his cars almost every week. For the sake of protecting the guilty, let's call him Bob.

Bob easily had the best-looking rides in the neighborhood. And their interiors always gave off that new-car smell. So we were a bit surprised one sunny afternoon when one of his vintage autos basically blew up on the driveway. By all appearances, the car looked to be in mint condition, and it had been driven fewer than 50,000 miles. But it turned out that Bob's tender loving care could not overcome a basic maintenance oversight. He never changed the car's motor oil.

I was reminded of “Bob” this week, when I came across a rather disturbing report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about immunization efforts. It turns out that seniors are not getting vaccinated against the flu, pneumonia, tetanus and shingles at a better a rate than they were in the past. That means that millions of older adults are unnecessarily facing a heightened risk of being hospitalized. And in the case of shingles, they are running the risk of suffering from its debilitating effects for years.

According to the CDC's latest estimates, here's how the trouble is happening under the hood.

Each year, one in three seniors skips the flu vaccine. As a result, between 3,000 and 49,000 Americans—primarily older adults—have died from the flu or related illnesses each year for the past three decades.

At the same time, four in 10 seniors are not vaccinated for pneumonia. This, despite the fact that pneumonia now affects about 900,000 seniors a year.

Moreover, about half of seniors are not immunized for tetanus. A shot is recommended once every decade to prevent a rare but often deadly bacterial condition known as “lockjaw.” Vaccination rates have changed little since 2008.

Finally, the shingles vaccine has the lowest adoption rates by older adults regarding those leading preventives—76% of them had not received it as of 2013, the latest year that data is available. There are an estimated 1 million cases each year in the United States, half among people older than 60. 

I don't know how many of these folks live in senior living communities. But my guess is that it's probably a lot more than zero.

What's somewhat ironic is that at a time when many operators are offering the very latest in activities and wellness options, immunizations are often left to individual residents. 

My suggestion is that to the extent you can, strongly encourage the people in your care to get those vaccinations. It may go far to keep them healthy and happy for many additional years. 

Besides, who wants to be like Bob?

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