As you hit your 60s, you become more susceptible to certain viruses and infections. But vaccines can help protect you and keep your immune system strong.
Why you need it: About 10 million Americans suffer from osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to become weak and brittle — and 34 million more people in the U.S. are at risk. Postmenopausal women are at increased risk as a lack of normal estrogen and progestin levels make bones weak.
What the test is like: A bone mineral density test can help determine your risk for osteoporosis. The test uses X-rays to measure the amount of calcium and other minerals are present in different segment of bone, typically your wrist, lower spine and hip, depending on the type of test done. The higher your mineral count, the denser and stronger your bones are.
When to start: A bone density test is recommended for women over the age of 65. If you’re younger than 65, but at high risk for osteoporosis, (e.g., you’ve had a broken bone after age 50, you’re of Caucasian or Asian descent, or you have a family history of osteoporosis), talk to your doctor about when and how often you should be screened.
Why you need it: While the flu vaccine is recommended for most people over 6 months old, it’s especially critical that those over the age of 65 are vaccinated. Because the immune system weakens with age, seniors are more susceptible to the flu, and recover less easily from the virus, which can lead to pneumonia or aggravate another illness. Ninety percent of flu-related deaths and more than half of flu-related hospitalizations occur in people ages 65 and older.
When to get it: The CDC recommends getting vaccinated annually in October. Because different strains of the flu virus develop each year, an annual vaccination ensures that you get the most up-to-date vaccination.
Why you need it: Pneumonia is a lung infection caused by bacteria or viruses that live in the nose and throat and are spread through coughing and sneezing. Although anyone can catch pneumonia, adults over the age of 65 are at a higher risk because their immune systems begin to weaken with age. In the U.S., pneumonia typically develops in adults who are battling the flu. Currently, there are two types of pneumonia vaccines available — pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) and pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV).
When to get it: Women over the age of 65 should receive the vaccine once, along with their yearly flu shot but not at the same site. If you get the pneumonia vaccine before age 65 or have a weakened immune system, check with your doctor to see if and when you might need a booster shot, which may be in five years.
Why you need it: Remember having chickenpox as a child? Well, after those red dots disappeared, the chickenpox virus stayed latent in your body. In some older adults, that virus reactivates as shingles — a viral infection that causes a severely painful rash.
However, some people should not get the shingles vaccinate. Do not get it if you:
Talk with your doctor if you have questions about the shingles vaccine.
When to get it: Women over the age of 60 should receive the shingles vaccine. It’s a one-time vaccine, so there’s no need to be vaccinated annually.
Jenilee Matz, MPH, is a medical writer, health educator, and triathlete based in Charlotte, NC.
Published June 5, 2012.