| Pocono Record
With flu season upon us, and as public officials warn of a “twindemic,” Pocono medical experts offer some tips for seniors on how to stay healthy this fall and winter.
Yes, you need that flu shot.
“In the United States between 12,000 and 61,000 people die each year from the flu, with the risk of death increasing the older you get. The single best way to prevent getting the flu is to get a yearly flu shot. Getting a flu shot has also been shown to decrease the risk of hospitalization for heart disease, and stroke, and getting a flu shot significantly decreases the death rate from all causes,” Dr. Shane Young, primary care provider at Geisinger 65 Forward in Hazelton, said. “This year with COVID-19 it is especially important to get a flu shot, since, if there is a large outbreak of both diseases, it could lead to overwhelming health systems.”
The best time to get a flu shot is before flu is in the area, since it takes about two weeks after vaccination to be protected, Young says.
The typical flu season is October through May, with peak activity from December through February.
Young recommends October as the best time to get a flu shot, but doctors vaccinate patients throughout most of the flu season.
Geisinger primary care offices offer flu shots during regular office hours and Geisinger Pharmacy locations offer flu shots for patients. Seniors can get a flu shot at Geisinger Convenient Care locations any day of the week (no appointment is needed).
Most flu shots are covered by healthcare plans and Medicare. Medical providers at Lehigh Valley Health Network and St. Luke’s University Health Network (along with pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS and Rite Aid) have taken similar measures to ensure the public is able to get vaccinated.
For those over the age of 50, Dr. Jonathan Goldner of Lehigh Valley Physician Group in East Stroudsburg, suggests a shingles vaccine.
“It is a two shot series that are two — six months apart. This can help prevent shingles which can be a very debilitating and painful illness. If you are active outside, there is always the recommendation of a tetanus shot every 10 years,” Goldner said. “For our older folks that will be around young grandchildren, there is the recommendation of a one time TDaP vaccination which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. Pertussis, known as whooping cough, has started to make a come back and this illness can be deadly to infants less than 3 months old if a grandchild would contract it.”
In addition, those age 65 and older, there is the recommendation of pneumococcal-13 valent (Prevnar) and pneumococcal-23 valent (pneumovax) to help prevent a common type of pneumonia called strep pneumonia, Goldner says.
“At age 65 or over, these can be one time doses if someone is generally healthy. Influenza vaccine needs to be given annually due to the different strains that occur from year to year,” he said.
Screening for your health
Preventive health screenings are one of the easiest and best ways to help identify potential health concerns early, when they are most manageable, Young says.
“This includes colonoscopies, mammograms, cancer screenings, cholesterol tests, blood pressure screenings, and annual eye and dental exams,” he said. “Stay up to date on other immunizations and health screenings. Make an appointment with your healthcare provider for a wellness exam and to discuss prevention. Keep active. Eat well and maintain a healthy weight. Prevent falls and injury. If you smoke, quit.”
Geisinger’s 65 Forward locations offer low-impact physical fitness classes in a COVID-safe environment, as well as fitness equipment for members to use.
There are also registered dietitians on-hand to help with healthy eating.
The program also offers members up to one-hour appointments with the doctor and a team of clinical and wellness staff to help keep all these preventive services on track for our members. Most of its common services are under one roof including laboratory services, X-ray services, and community support services.
For more information on 65 Forward and senior care, go to geisinger.org/forward
If you have concerns about what tests you need, speak to your primary doctor.
Some screening tests and guidelines are a little controversial because of discrepancy for screening that is recommended by medical societies and federal guidelines such as from the Centers for Disease Control or the US Preventative Services Task Force, Goldner says.
“Colon cancer screening with colonoscopy is recommended starting at age 50. If you are at high risk for colon cancer, the age has been moved down to 45 to start and sometimes even younger,” he said.
Most colonoscopies are performed by a gastroenterologist or a colon-rectal surgeon.
For men, current guidelines state obtaining a prostate exam with at least an annual PSA level (prostate specific antigen) starting by age 50 to 55.
“Again, if someone has a high risk of prostate cancer, the screening can be started earlier from age 40 to 54. For breast cancer screening, women age 40-44 should have a baseline mammogram and given the option of starting their annual screening at that time. Woman age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year. At the age of 55, the recommendations are not as clear but recommend mammograms at least every other year with the option of continuing annual mammograms,” Goldner said. “At what age to stop screening mammograms is again somewhat controversial as some woman are extremely active and healthy well into their 80s and sometimes even 90s. For sure, screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.
As far as screening EKGs, the recommendation has changed over the past years, Goldner says.
“There is little evidence that detection of coronary artery blockages in patients who have no symptoms at low-risk for coronary heart disease improves health outcomes. False-positive tests are likely to lead to harm through unnecessary invasive procedures such as heart catherization, over-treatment, and misdiagnosis,” he said. “For these patients, potential harms of this routine annual screening of an EKG or stress test was found to exceed the potential benefit. I would talk to your primary care provider to make sure that you do not have risk factors for heart disease that might put someone in a different category of a higher risk patient (smoking, high cholesterol, family history of heart disease) or certainly testing should be done if you have symptoms of heart disease such as chest pain or shortness of breath.”
And as Goldner points out, don’t forget to practice social distancing.
“Please, please, please wear a mask when you go out and if you will be around others that you do not live with. Although our COVID-19 infection rate is much better than months ago, there is still COVID-19 around our community and we are still occasionally seeing patients with infections,” Goldner said. “Your mask is there to protect others in your community and needs to be worn correctly, which means covering both your nose and mouth. (133) members of our community in Monroe County have died from this virus since March. Physicians that have taken care of COVID-19 infections here will tell you, this virus does not discriminate between the young and the old, all are at risk.”