While roughly 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) annually, this number represents only a fraction of the number of people living with the disease. In fact, this tick-borne illness is one of the world’s fastest growing infectious diseases, and has been declared an epidemic. Even more alarming? Children and seniors have the greatest risk of developing Lyme disease.
Here’s a closer look at the issue, along with caregiver tips aimed at helping to keep seniors Lyme disease-free.
About Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi and transmitted via the bite of a black-legged tick (or deer tick) found throughout the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and north-central United States as well as the western black-legged tick, which is found on the Pacific Coast. Black-legged ticks usually reside in wooded areas, and can also spread several over diseases. In most cases, a tick must be attached for more than 36 hours in order to transmit the Lyme disease bacterium. Unfortunately, ticks are minuscule and often attach to areas of the body that are hard to see, such as the scalp, groin and armpits.
Symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue, joint pain and “erythema migrans,” a characteristic “bullseye” skin rash. Swollen lymph nodes, dizziness and shortness of breath, and problems with short-term memory may also occur in seniors with Lyme disease.
And while Lyme disease can be successfully treated by antibiotics if it’s caught and treated early, it can result in an infection that spreads to the joints, heart, and nervous system, if left untreated.
Lyme Disease and the Elderly
According to data published in the academic journal Zoonoses and Public Health, adults aged 65 and over account for 22 percent of tick bite-related emergency room visits. Furthermore, according to Dr. Daniel Cameron, the elderly—along with children—are more difficult to diagnose and to treat due to their weaker immune systems.
In addition to the dangers of Lyme disease, seniors are also more susceptible to other dangerous diseases caused by tick bites, such as babesiosis and African Tick Bite fever, according to the website Tickbites.net.
Lyme Disease Prevention for Seniors
Prevention is the best defense against tick bites and Lyme disease. A few precautionary steps can help keep seniors safe, including keeping the arms and legs covered up when venturing outdoors; avoiding areas of high or thick vegetation; and staying to the center of walking paths and trails. Additionally, routine “tick checks” following time spent outdoors can help identify ticks and/or indications of tick bites.
Despite your best efforts, tick bites may still occur. Because early treatment means significantly better chances of overcoming Lyme disease, caregivers should keep watch for the signs and symptoms listed above. Because many of these symptoms can also mimic common afflictions of the elderly, it’s important to provide detailed information to your aging loved one’s health care team, as well as to note any time spent outside.
If the disease is caught early enough, it is resolvable by a course of antibiotics. However, “the longer Lyme disease goes untreated in seniors, the harder it becomes to cure. And even if late-stage Lyme disease is treated, the lingering effects, such as fatigue and nausea, may never fully go away,” cautions the Laconia Daily Sun.
The takeaway for caregivers? When it comes to Lyme disease and senior health and safety, “better safe than sorry” is the most advantageous approach.
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