Aging: Changes in the Immune System

I lived too far away from my mom to spend time with her in her last couple of years, but we spoke on the phone almost every week.  It seemed to me that she almost always had an upper respiratory infection, or was just getting over one.  Before she went to the nursing home, she had a little apartment.  Her sinus issues were terrible there, as well.  We were able to gift her with a new mattress and pillow, and I think the new pillow, especially, helped relieve some of her nasal problems that were due to allergies.  She’d had her old pillow forever, and she wasn’t thrilled about giving it up!  But she did say she felt a little better.

So, now I’m a senior citizen myself, and my doctor keeps careful track of whether or not I’ve had a flu shot or a pneumonia shot.  Relatively harmless infections aren’t a big deal for young people who are strong and active, but they can be very serious for those of us in the Boomer generation. Our immune systems just aren’t as strong and vital as they used to be.

Here are some of the things that are symptomatic of a weakened immune system:

  • It is slower to respond. This increases risk of getting sick. Flu shots or other vaccines may not work as well or protect you for as long as expected.
  • An autoimmune disorder may develop. This is a disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissues.
  • Healing is also slowed in older persons. There are fewer immune cells in the body to bring about healing.
  • The immune system’s ability to detect and correct cell defects also declines. This can result in an increase in the risk of cancer.

The fact is that as our bodies age we are less able to effectively fight off certain diseases.

Basic good hygiene, nutrition, and exercise are important and helpful. Here are a few other things you can do to protect your health as you age:

  • Get the flu and pneumonia vaccines and any other vaccines recommended by your health care provider.
  • Get plenty of exercise. Exercise helps boost your immune system.
  • Eat healthy foods. Good nutrition keeps your immune system strong.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking weakens your immune system.
  • Limit your intake of alcohol. Ask your health care provider how much alcohol is safe for you.
  • Look into safety measures to prevent falls and injuries. A weak immune system can slow healing from falls and injuries.

It is so important to begin taking care of yourself while you are still strong, healthy, and independent.  The importance of exercise cannot be stressed too much.  Keeping the body moving and the muscles strong will slow down the aging process and keep you independent much longer.

No one wants to be a burden on their families.  We all hope to be strong and active long into our senior years.  My father-in-law was a man who stayed active all his life.   The day before he died, he’d been walking the woods with his lifelong hunting buddies up in northern Michigan.  His heart gave out on him, and he died in his sleep that night. He didn’t have a lingering, dependent old age because he stayed physically active and mentally curious right up to the moment he took his last breath.

It pays to take care of ourselves.

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