It is not uncommon for the elderly to get shingles. If your aging parent ever had chickenpox, and she hasn’t had the shingles vaccination, she could very well develop shingles. Shingles is a painful rash that is caused by a viral infection. The reason it is linked to chickenpox is that it is caused by the same virus – varicella-zoster. The varicella-zoster virus stays in a person’s body after someone has chickenpox, laying dormant until a possible time in the future when it will reactivate and cause the rash known as shingles. It’s not possible to know who will develop it and who won’t, but the older a person gets, the more likely she is to develop shingles. Those with weakened immune systems due to diseases like cancer and lupus, and even those who are simply battling the flu or a bad cold, are more likely to develop shingles.
The shingles “rash” can occur anywhere on the body. It usually looks like a single stripe of blisters that wraps around the left side or the right side of the torso. Sometimes it can occur around one eye or one side of the face or neck.
The best way for your parent to avoid shingles is to receive the vaccination. She can receive it when her elder care provider brings her to the pharmacy for something (other vaccinations or medication pick up) or when she visits her doctor.
But if your parent hasn’t had the vaccination yet, and you are concerned she might have shingles, here are the symptoms you and your elder care team can be on the lookout for.
- Fluid-filled blisters in one small area of the body. You’ll usually find them clustered in a line around the torso, or perhaps a small patch on the head, near the eye or neck.
- Burning, shoot pain. This pain can be quite excruciating and in many ways, frustrating because it cannot be relieved by changing positions. It can often be mistaken for other things as well, especially if the rash hasn’t shown up. If your parent has sudden pain and reports it to you or her elder care provider, shingles is something to keep in mind as the cause.
- Tingling, numbness, or itching of the skin in those areas prone to shingles. This symptom will be very specific to where it’ll occur on your parent’s body. If itching is a symptom, your parent needs to be very careful around the blisters so that she doesn’t break them open and risk infection.
- Sensitivity to touch. For your parent, even the slightest touch in the affected area may cause extreme discomfort.
- A fever, chills, a headache, and perhaps an upset stomach.
If your parent has any of these symptoms, you should have her visit her doctor to confirm if it’s shingles. Any blisters near the eyes need to be closely observed to ensure they do not get too close and cause permanent vision problems. Your parent’s doctor will recommend care, which will mainly be elder care with a possible prescribed pain or anti-itch medication if those symptoms are extreme.