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Why Older Adults Have Weak Immune Systems

The immune system is designed to provide sufficient protection against invading viruses and other “bad” things that can contribute to various illnesses. However, it tends to get weaker with age, which can be especially problematic if your senior loved one has underlying or chronic health conditions he or she is trying to manage. Below, you’ll find some of the top reasons seniors often have issues with a weak immune system.

Reduced Ability to Identify “Foreign Invaders”

Over time, the immune system becomes less capable of clearly identifying bacteria, viruses, and other toxic or foreign substances (antigens), which can increase an older adult’s risk of developing autoimmune disorders because the body considers things like joints and skin foreign. Some disorders of this nature likely to occur in seniors with weak immune systems include:

• Rheumatoid arthritis
• Inflammatory bowel disease
• Celiac disease
• Type 1 diabetes

If your senior loved one has been diagnosed with a serious condition and needs help with tasks like meal prep, transportation, bathing, and grooming, reach out to Home Care Assistance, a leading provider of home care Boca Raton, FL, families can trust. We also offer comprehensive care for seniors with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.

Less Responsive T Cells

T (T lymphocyte) cells are specialized white blood cells that help the immune system respond to foreign or toxic substances effectively. They also remember other antigens they’ve encountered before, which allows the immune system to kick into high gear if those same “bad” substances return. However, T cells gradually become less responsive in older adults, which contributes to a weaker immune system.

Less Effective Antibodies

Antibodies are proteins that help the immune system fight infections effectively. Over time, they’re not able to attach to the things that cause infections as well as they once did, which is part of the reason seniors are more susceptible to the flu virus and respiratory infections like pneumonia.

Poor Diet Habits

Seniors with poor diet habits may be making their immune systems progressively weaker. Sugary snacks, products containing gluten, processed foods, and refined oils are among the foods considered especially bad for the immune system. Older adults should also be mindful of their consumption of alcohol and caffeine. Foods that tend to be better for an aging immune system include:

• Citrus fruits
• Garlic, ginger, and turmeric
• Green, leafy veggies
• Skinless poultry and fish

In-home care providers can benefit aging adults in a variety of ways. From cooking nutritious meals to offering timely medication reminders, the dedicated caregivers at Home Care Assistance are available to help your elderly loved one 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Lack of Sufficient Exercise

Leading a generally sedentary lifestyle can make an older adult’s immune system weaker and increase the release of stress hormones associated with a higher risk of illness. A study involving over a thousand adults published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine determined that regular exercise has the opposite effect. Fortunately, there are many ways seniors can stay physically active, some of which include:

• Regular walking
• Low-impact aerobics
• Swimming, water walking, and other water-based activities

Poor Sleep Habits and Other Contributing Factors

A lack of high-quality sleep can also be a reason for weak immune systems in seniors. Additionally, older adults often have difficulty with sleep because of age-related changes with the body’s natural sleep-wake patterns. The National Sleep Foundation reports that sleep disturbances can also occur in the elderly because of issues with medication and chronic conditions. Seniors are advised to strive for 7-8 hours of high-quality sleep each night. Other factors that could affect an older adult’s immune system include:

• Stress and anxiety
• Excess weight
• The use of tobacco-containing products

Family caregivers are often at risk for burnout, which can negatively impact their own immunity. In Boca Raton, respite care is a great help to many families. Caring for a senior loved one can be overwhelming at times, which puts family caregivers at risk for burnout. However, an in-home caregiver can take over your loved one’s care, allowing you the time you need to focus on your own health, maintain a full-time job, or care for other members of your family. Call Home Care Assistance today at (561) 826.9282 to find out how we can best assist you and your loved one.