Older people should continue to get their annual flu shots despite a recent report that it may not be as effective for those over 70 as previously hoped. And a vaccine that targets pneumonia and another that goes after shingles are also important tools for keeping seniors healthy, according to experts on senior health who are participating in today's Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Health Hotline.

"A flu shot is not always going to keep you from getting the flu," said Sandra McNicoll, an advanced-practice registered nurse at Intermountain Senior Clinic. But she said it offers some protection even when the particular strain is not quite right, and that's particularly important after age 50, when "the immune system starts to decrease."

A recent well-publicized study questioned vaccine efficacy after age 70.

"It came to the conclusion that it may not be as good as we hoped," said Dr. C. Edward Wyne. "But it is still the only thing we've got, and we think it does boost immunity to a degree."

McNicoll and Wyne will take calls on a broad range of senior issues — including diabetes, nutrition, strength building, illness prevention and more — during today's hotline on senior health, from 10 a.m. to noon. Call 800-925-8177. You can e-mail questions to [email protected], and some will be selected and answered at deseretnews.com at noon Sept. 19.

Health providers who work with seniors also recommend the shingles vaccine, McNicoll said. Shingles follows a nerve root pattern that can show up anywhere on the body, and it's extremely painful. It also needs to be treated with antiviral medications within 72 hours to be really effective and avoid a neuropathic-type pain that can linger many months, she said.

Another issue of great concern to seniors is diabetes — something McNicoll specializes in — as well as the links between it and poor nutrition and sedentary lifestyles. Nutrition among older people may be impacted by dental issues, lack of motivation to cook, even loneliness. Seniors typically don't eat enough protein, she said, and muscles demand it. They should get a little at every meal.

Poor nutrition can contribute directly to falls and injuries like broken hips.

Care providers are also concerned about how well people who are looking after loved ones take care of themselves as they age, she said.

"As you get older, you don't notice how frail you're becoming, especially if you're by yourself or you're a caregiver to someone who is sick and you let your health slide," McNicoll said. "We see that a lot."

She said she harps on preventive screening like bone scan, mammography and colonoscopy for her patients, as well as the need for adequate vitamin D.

The hotline tackles a different health topic the second Saturday of each month.


E-mail: [email protected]