Vaccination should become a routine part of medical consultations for older people, according to a campaigner for healthy and active ageing.
In an interview with Vaccines Today, Gertraud Dayé, Director of the European Federation of Older Persons (EURAG), says checking vaccination status should be second nature for doctors and she urged older people and their carers to ask health professionals about immunisation.
“Immunisation is one of the pillars required to maintain good health in older age and, thus, to preserve quality of life in this stage of life,” according to Ms Dayé, a lecturer and researcher in social work who has been involved in several EU projects on healthy ageing.
Ms Dayé wants to see greater efforts to raise awareness of preventative health measures for older people. “It should become the norm to look at immunization status during regular medical check-ups. If GPs do not do it automatically – and in my experience they frequently do not – the older persons should ask for it.”
Adult immunisation is one of several issues that EURAG is interested in, given the potential of vaccination to maintain independence. “Only when older persons are relatively healthy they can maintain an independent way of living,” she says.
Q&A with Gertraud Dayé, Director of the European Federation of Older Persons (EURAG)
What is EURAG and what does it do?
EURAG – European Federation of Older Persons – is a European umbrella organisation of organisations of and for older persons. It was founded in 1962 and had, right from the beginning, members in Eastern, Central and Western European countries. It is an NGO having consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), a member of the NGO Committee on Ageing with the UN in Vienna and, in particular, active at EU and UNECE level.
EURAG was (and still is) a partner in a large number of European Commission-funded projects, representing the interests of older persons. EURAG organises conferences on a wide range of topics of concern to older persons twice a year and holds big congresses, linked with the organisation’s general assembly, every third year. Today, members come not only from the EU member countries, but also from Iceland, Switzerland, Albania, Ukraine and Israel.
What is your own area of expertise?
I have worked for EURAG in different functions for exactly 30 years, the last 10 years as the Director of the EURAG General Secretariat. Topics I have been working on are: quality of life of older persons, healthcare, quality of social and health services, discrimination on the grounds of age, measures to ensure active and healthy ageing, and maintaining the independence of older persons for as long as at all possible, the problems of (older) family carers, the quality of assistive technology supporting independent living, elder abuse, amongst others.
In my role as the Chair of the NGO Committee on Ageing with the UN in Vienna, I was involved in the Civil Society contributions to the UNECE Ministerial Conferences on Ageing in 2002 and 2012, dealing with the implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (adopted at the 2nd International Assembly on Ageing in Madrid in 2002). I, further, was teaching at Universities of Applied Sciences in Germany and Austria. The common denominator being spreading information about the wishes and the opinions of older persons themselves.
Why have you become interested in adult immunization?
Recently, more and more work is done in the field of promoting active and healthy ageing. I have been involved in several such EC-funded projects. And I have been involved in different functions in programmes within the framework of EHFG (European Health Forum Gastein), dealing, among other topics, also with health aspects of older persons, including preventive measures.
More recently I was invited to attend the Adult Immunization Advocacy Champion Summit organized by IFA and Hacettepe University in Brussels in November 2015. All this made me become interested in adult immunization as an important step to maintain older persons in good health and reducing health risks.
What work are you doing in this area?
Awareness raising: simply talking to the older persons I meet in the course of all my activities about the importance of vaccines as a preventive measure. And, on the other hand: point out to professional carers and informal carers how important adult immunization is for older persons, and, thanks to my expertise as a person representing the interests of older persons, show health professionals what are the arguments that might encourage older persons to look at their own immunization status.
How, in your opinion, do vaccines play a role in preserving the quality of life older people?
Immunization is one of the pillars required to maintain health in older age and, thus, to preserve the quality of life also in this stage of life.
In terms of independence (independent living), is there evidence that vaccines can be beneficial to individuals and to society as a whole?
Only when older persons are relatively healthy they can maintain an independent way of living. For example, I had, among my colleagues back in the 1980, a lady who at the age of around 70 got meningitis caused by a tick; she became blind as a result of this illness. Nowadays, in the regions of Austria where tick-induced meningitis is frequent, a very high percentage of the population (including older persons) get vaccinated against this risk.
What advice do you have for older people regarding vaccination?
It should become general practice to have also a look at the immunization status within the framework of the older persons’ regular medical check-up with their GP. If their GPs do not do it automatically (and I have experienced they frequently do not), the older persons should ask for it.