NPR Story on Vaccines and Aging

This morning (February 8,2010) on National Public Radio, a Morning Edition story, “Adapting Vaccines to our Aging Immune Systems.” explained how vaccines given to seniors are not as effective compared to those administered to children and younger adults. The story describes how the body’s immune system works in general, and how a senior immune system (defined in the story as people somewhere over age 50) differs. Because an older body’s immune system is continuously losing pep and vigor in its reaction to standard vaccines, new and stronger types are developing expressly for seniors. A link on the story’s page goes to a YouTube video on how the immune system works.

The NPR report quotes Dr. Stefan Gravenstein, a professor of medicine at Brown University (Brown University School of Medicine), who together with Ann Falsey, from the University of Rochester, explains how new and more effective vaccines are developing. A really interesting story to listen to or read (NPR’s web site usually offers both options).

Flu shots (yearly) and pneumococcal vaccine have made our parents lives healthier and more secure. Many aging parents know this and need no encouragement to get the shots, which are covered by Medicare. Others may need extra encouragement from their aging children.

More on Dr. Gravenstein

Listen to Dr. Gravenstein discuss heart, dementia, and the future of senior nursing care in this interview. Also check out the Tockwotton Home, an innovative assisted living and nursing home where Dr. Gravenstein, a gerontologist, is the medical director. In the interview I was especially interested in the connection he draws between heart issues and dementia.

When Mother died last month, her dementia was advanced, but to us her heart issues were more significant, causing her strokes as well as other disabilities, and ultimately causing her death. The above interview with Dr. Gravenstein connected some of the diseases for us. Because we were with her every day as her dementia advanced, we observed the other dramatic heart-related symptoms, and it was so clear to us that the heart was the main culprit.

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