According to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), the current influenza vaccine protects between 30% and 70% of older people from hospitalisation for pneumonia and flu, so there is clearly room for improvement. However, while it may be imperfect, the vaccine has a
significant impact in reducing hospitalisation.
In recent decades, not only has medical science helped people to live longer, it has enabled us to stay healthy for longer. Still, there is work to do given that a hospital stay is too often linked to a loss of independence.
The risk of hospitalisation due to respiratory illness rises with age, as do the chances of catastrophic disability which typically deprives people of their ability to live independently.
The leading causes of this kind of disability are stroke, congestive heart failure and influenza or pneumonia.
Avoiding hospitalisation, supporting older people in feeling competent and confident about their ability to run their own lives, is a key part of geriatric research.
People aged 65 years or more are hospitalised three times more often than younger adults. At discharge, one third of these are more disabled and one half never recover. Ask an elderly patient what they hope for and many will say they are keen to go home and get their independence back.
Exercise, healthy diets, and vaccination remain the key strategies to successful ageing but more work is needed to deepen our understanding of how public health strategies impact on vitality and quality of life.
Our research team sees so-called “dynamic frailty” as an important goal for health care providers working with older patients. The aim should be to return patients to their previous level of independence.
Another area in need of further attention is the precise contribution of vaccination to reaching this goal as part of creating a sustainable healthcare system capable of dealing with an ageing population.
This post is based on Prof McElhaney’s presentation at this week’s ESWI Influenza Conference