Almost half of our older Australians are failing to look after their health

Despite 87% believing they are doing their best to take care of themselves,¹ 70% remain unaware they are at risk of serious conditions like shingles¹

New research* released today has found that almost half of our Australians in their 70’s are not looking after their health.¹

The research found 60% admit to not eating a balanced diet,¹ over half (52%) are drinking more alcohol than recommended,¹ almost half (49%) are not maintaining an active lifestyle,¹ and 70% remain unaware they are at risk of serious conditions like shingles.¹

These figures are in contrast with 87% of this group believing they are actually doing their best to take care of themselves.¹

Additionally, just under half of this group (46%) prioritise the importance of the health of other family members over their own personal health.¹

Geriatrician Associate Professor Michael Woodward AM said, “This research is concerning as it shows that not only do many of our older Australians misunderstand what they need to do to protect their health, despite their best efforts, they are getting some of the basics wrong. They are also putting others ahead of their own health, potentially exposing themselves and others to illness. Additionally, although they are seeing their GP regularly, they are still not aware that the risk of developing certain illnesses increases as they age, such as shingles.”

The research uncovered that over a quarter (27%) of 70-79 year old Australians have had shingles,¹ a condition not only more common over the age of 70, but with an increased chance of complications at this age.²

“70% of our 70-79 year olds don’t know they are at high risk of shingles,¹ and over a third (36%) are not aware that shingles may be treated and prevented.¹ Shingles can strike at any time² and we don’t know how severe it will be when it hits.² We do know that the chance of developing shingles, along with the risk of complications, increase with age, particularly over the age of 70.”²

“Although there is no cure for shingles and we know one in three will develop shingles in their lifetime,³ 40% of Australians aged 70-79 are not aware that there are Government funded shingles prevention and treatment options,”¹ A/Prof Woodward continued.

Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After chickenpox, the varicella zoster virus lays dormant in the nerves and can reactivate at any time, most commonly in older age, causing shingles.

It is characterised by a blistering rash which appears as a band or belt on one side of the body,³ however shingles is not just a rash.

Some people affected by shingles also experience severe, chronic and debilitating nerve pain, that can last for months or even years, known as postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).³,5

The research also uncovered the reasons why our older Australians want to protect their health, with 84% saying it is so they could enjoy life more and live a longer and healthier life,¹ and 61% saying it was so they could be around to see grandchildren grow up.¹

Patti Newton, well-loved Australian in her 70’s, a grandparent and someone who has experienced the pain and debilitating nature of shingles first hand, commented on the findings, “This new research shows that older Australians need to get better at protecting our health and making sure we are a bit more selfish when it comes to our own health. As a mum and grandmother, I need to make sure I stay fit and healthy so I can be there for my family and maximise my quality of life. It’s important that we speak to our doctors about how we can protect our health, especially from shingles.”

National Seniors Australia CEO Dagmar Parsons said older Australians were important members of the community and played a vital role in caring for loved ones, particularly grandchildren.

“It is important that we encourage older Australians to do everything they can to look after their health and put their own health first, to ensure they are able to lead long and fulfilling lives,” Ms Parsons said.

More about shingles

  • 97% of Australian adults have been exposed to the chicken pox virus and are therefore at risk of shingles.4
  • It is estimated one in three Australians may develop shingles in their lifetime.³
  • PHN is nerve pain which persists for at least three months after shingles first appears, 5 and can occur in up to one in five people with shingles.³,5 Shingles nerve pain has been described as throbbing, burning, stabbing and sharp.³,6
  • Shingles can also lead to other complications such as bacterial skin infection, neurological complications and may also increase the risk of stroke in the following six months. 5,7
  • The new research found that of the estimated 387,000 70-79 year olds that have had shingles, 41% also suffered from nerve pain or PHN.¹


  1. Seqirus Data on File. Galaxy Consumer Research. June 2017
  2. NCIRS Herpes Zoster Factsheet August 2017 Accessed August 2017.
  3. Harpaz R et al. Prevention of Herpes Zoster. Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunisation Practices (ACIP) MMRW 2008 Jun 6;57 (RR-5):1-30.
  4. Stein A N. et al. 2009. Herpes zoster burden of illness and health care resource utilisation in the Australian population aged 50 years and older. Vaccine. Vol 27, pp. 520-29.
  5. Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). The Australian immunisation handbook 10th ed (2017 update). Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health, 2017
  6. Oxman M N. 2000. Varicella-zoster virus: virology and clinical management. Cambridge University Press. Ch 13 pp. 246-275.
  7. Langan SM et al. 2014 Risk of Stroke Following Herpes Zoster: A Self-Controlled Case Series Study; 58: 1497-1503.