Tag Archives: seniors

Vaccines for Seniors

October 29, 2018 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

Vaccines are not only for children. That’s one of many confusions about vaccinations, says Dr. Mark Rupp, a professor and chief of the Infectious Diseases Division at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

“Certain vaccinations are very important for adults as they age in order to maintain their health,” he explains, “and especially important for those with chronic health conditions.”

Rupp says the most essential vaccines for seniors are for shingles, influenza, pneumococcal disease, and tetanus/Tdap.

Other common misconceptions concern the vaccines themselves. “People believe that if they get the influenza vaccine, for example, it will give them the flu,” he says. “But since it is made from a killed virus, not a live virus, there’s no way it can transfer the infection to you.” 

Meanwhile, misinformation has circulated in recent years about vaccinations causing certain illnesses or conditions, especially in children. “We may not fully understand what causes those conditions, but we do know there is absolutely no link between them and vaccines,” he says. 

A fraudulent study by British doctor Andrew Wakefield inaccurately linked the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine to childhood autism in a now-retracted and discredited 1998 scientific paper. Unfortunately, the damage lingers still among conspiracy theorists. A movement of anti-science skeptics known as anti-vaxxers has led to increasing outbreaks of measles. 

“Vaccines aren’t perfect,” Rupp admits. “But they are our best weapon to protect us from horrible diseases.” As an example, he cites how vaccines for smallpox and polio have basically turned these devastating, life-threatening diseases into “medical curiosities” that are rarely seen today. “Viruses still remain in the world,” he adds, “and if we let our guard down, our children will experience these diseases just like our grandparents did.” 

Rupp believes we all need to be vaccinated because, “It’s the right thing to do…It’s called herd immunity,” he says, “where we form a protective bubble around those individuals who are immune-suppressed, for example, and cannot be given live-virus vaccines.” 

“All vaccines recommended for adults are carefully evaluated, and the benefit of getting them clearly outweighs the small risk of side effects or toxicity,” he says. The website of the Center for Disease Control also states that the current U.S. vaccine supply is the safest in history.

For those with chronic health conditions or high-risk factors, Rupp recommends talking with a doctor about additional or earlier vaccinations, and also to investigate which vaccines are covered by Medicare or other insurance providers. 


Recommended Vaccinations

Shingles

  • Recommended age: 50
  • Approved last year, the new vaccine Shingrix is a two-part injection given one to six months apart. 
  • Benefits over previous shingles vaccine:
    More effective in preventing shingles and complications from shingles (90-95 percent success rate compared with 50-60 percent); longer lasting immunity (four to five years); and doesn’t contain a live virus, so can be given to immune-suppressed patients.
  • Possible side effects include pain at injection site and low-grade fever. 

Influenza 

  • Recommended age: 6 months through adulthood, repeated yearly to keep up with changes in virus. 
  • New feature: no longer made from hen eggs, the vaccine is safe for individuals with egg allergies. 
  • Possible side effects include soreness at injection site, aches/pains, and low-grade fever. 

Pneumococcal 

  • Recommended age: 65 for healthy adults, younger for adults with diabetes, heart disease, asthma, or other chronic illness.

Tetanus/Tdap 

  • Recommended age: childhood through adulthood, with boosters every 10 years. 
  • One of those tetanus boosters should be the Tdap vaccine, which also protects against diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). 
  • The Tdap booster shot is especially important for grandparents, as whooping cough is very contagious and can be deadly for infants. 

This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Uber and Lyft

March 26, 2017 by
Illustration by Matt Wieczorek

With the post-millennial rise of ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft, a generation weaned on digital technology could suddenly tap a smartphone app, summon a private car driven by the owner, and pay for the fare electronically. Easy peasy.

Uber and Lyft can thank their younger demographics for pushing revenue into the billions of dollars.

But guess what? Both transportation companies have figured out that profitable fruit doesn’t only come from young trees. The push to make ride-hailing easier for retired Americans looms on the horizon, and that horizon can’t come into focus soon enough.

“Transportation has always been one of our greatest challenges,” says Erin Endress, director of sales and marketing at Remington Heights, a retirement community in Omaha. “We have vans, but getting residents to and from medical appointments takes priority, which it should. That leaves little opportunity for trips just for fun. We could definitely use a transportation alternative, as long as it’s safe.”

And for those who still live at home but whose eyesight or reflexes may not be the best?

“Personally, I think Uber and Lyft are going to make a huge difference for folks as they stop driving or don’t drive as much, or as far, on their own,”  says Cynthia Brammeier, administrator of the Nebraska State Unit on Aging. “I’m looking forward to getting to that point. It’s awesome!” she exclaims, having personally experienced the buzz surrounding Uber while visiting another state.

Nebraska came late to the party, approving Uber and Lyft operations in July 2015, which may explain a lack of awareness among Omahans in general.

The necessity of a smartphone to summon a ride excludes many seniors from ride-hailing apps. According to the Pew Research Center, 70 percent of those 65 and older don’t own a smartphone, instead preferring cheaper, old-fashioned flip phones with limited data capabilities.

One segment of the senior population did benefit immediately from having the transportation alternatives in Omaha: drivers.

“I’ve been with Lyft for over a year. It’s my only job now, “ says Dave*, 68, who prefers to remain anonymous. Working about four hours a night, the Dundee resident brings home “between $400 and $500 a week working the entertainment district and trips to the airport. But that’s not counting my car payment, gas, and insurance.”

The insurance question explains why Dave doesn’t want to be identified. Both Uber and Lyft have up to $1 million in liability coverage. But if a driver gets into an accident on the way to pick up a passenger, how much his or her personal insurance carrier will pay out becomes murky, since the driver uses the car for profit.

The advantages of ride-hailing services, previously called ridesharing, seem pretty clear.

“We’re half the cost of a cab,” Dave says. “We pick up passengers within five to 10 minutes. The cars are newer, clean, and have to be four-door. No cash exchanges hands, unless the passenger tips me in cash.”

The advantages for Dave include setting his own work schedule, meeting “wonderful people,” and showing off his hometown to visitors. “I love Omaha and I consider myself an ambassador for this city,” he says. “Nearly all my passengers say how friendly we are here.”

But why would someone in their 80s summon a stranger to their home to pick them up?

“[The companies] check us out pretty good,” Dave assures. Both Uber and Lyft conduct extensive background, criminal, and DMV checks. Lyft sent an employee to inspect Dave’s Toyota. “Believe me, we’re safe.”

The opportunity for seniors without smartphones to utilize Uber or Lyft as passengers depends greatly on a “no app required” platform. One such service recently appeared on a list of transportation options compiled by the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging.

“It’s called GoGoGrandparent,” says Taylor Armstrong of the ENOA. “We’re told you don’t have to use a smartphone. People just call a number.”

The brainchild of a California man whose grandmother couldn’t tool around San Diego anymore, GoGoGrandparent uses a toll-free hotline to connect seniors with an operator, who then summons an Uber car for them.

“We’re not recommending this service over all the other transportation options ENOA offers,” cautions Jeff Reinhardt of the public affairs division. “We haven’t gotten any feedback yet on GoGoGrandparent.”

Lyft’s contribution to creating easier access involves senior-friendly Jitterbug cell phones and smartphones. When paired with a 24/7 health care provider, a registered user simply dials “0” on the Jitterbug phone and books a ride through the operator. This pilot program has yet to find its way to Omaha.

“We’re going to be top-heavy in seniors in the next 10 to 20 years,” Endress says. “There’s a huge need for entrepreneurs who want to make a difference in someone’s life.”

As evidenced by the rapidly changing technology that grants the gift of mobility, the difference-makers have arrived.

Visit uber.com, lyft.com, and

gogograndparent.com for more information.

* Dave is not the driver’s real name.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of 60 Plus.

A Lesson in Lifelong Learning

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Robert S. Runyon, posing in an austere-looking suit and tie, gazes down upon patrons from his portrait in the University of Nebraska at Omaha library. In contrast, the flesh and blood version introduces himself as “Bob” and sports a  T-shirt with the phrase “Literally Great…Figuratively the Best.” The UNO English Department shirt fits the wordsmith and lifelong learner like a glove.

“I’ve always had books on a pedestal in my mind,” says Runyon, who served as dean of the university’s library from 1978 to 2000.

Runyon laughs, “Before I retired, I thought, ‘I’ve got to prepare for retirement so I have a reason to get up in the morning.’” Chuckling, he continues, “I’m a lazy, sloppy, indolent person. And unless I have a reason—unless I have a purpose, a life purpose—I’m just going to vegetate.”     

Nowadays, Runyon doesn’t have time to vegetate. He travels with his wife (Sheila), takes classes, and writes his memoir.

Robert-Runyon2Despite Runyon’s appreciation of books, he has not always written them. Five years ago he saw a flier for a personal writing course at UNO. He asked instructor Elizabeth Mack, “Would you allow a 70-plus-year-old guy to come into your class?”

That’s exactly why UNO offers the Senior Passport Program. Founded in 2001, the program allows seniors (age 65 and older) to take two courses per semester at a cost of $25 per year. The only requirements are an available seat in the class, instructor approval, and a desire to learn.

Runyon has since taken several creative nonfiction courses with professors John Price and Lisa Knopp: autobiography, nature writing, travel writing, and spiritual writing.

“All of that was a strong experience,” says Runyon. “The encouragement I got from those people was enormous.” Knopp even marked “As” on Runyon’s essays.

Runyon says, “Senior Passport students aren’t graded, but I’m not sure I told her that because I liked getting As.”

These classes jump-started Runyon’s work on his memoir: “I think I’ve got about 10 essays cobbled together, and I’ve got probably six or eight more in the hopper in various stages of completion.”

Runyon says, “You can be creative in your later years. The brain is continuously growing and changing. To me, that is a pivotal thing to think about, in the process of aging and, especially, of learning.”    

Julie Masters, professor and chair of the Department of Gerontology at UNO, explains, “Just as we need to exercise physically, we need to exercise cognitively.”

Each year, anywhere from 60 to 100 seniors “cognitively exercise” through the Senior Passport Program. The program also impacts the instructors and other students in each class. Masters says, “The Passport Program, in a way, allows for an infusion of the benefit of experience within the classroom environment.”

Runyon connects with other students through writing, learning, and experience. “The power of words is where it all resides with me,” says Runyon. “You find something that raises your passion.”

Visit unomaha.edu/registrar/students/senior-passport.php for more information. Sixty-Plus in Omaha