Senior woman covering face with a mask to prevent infection.

How Does the Immune System Change as We Age?

How Does the Immune System Change as We Age?

As we age, our bodies change. That’s no surprise. But what may come as a surprise is that other things begin to change as well. If you ever feel under the weather, you might notice it takes you longer to get back on your feet again. Why is that? As we age, our immune system begins to change.

In general, it’s not something that is cause for concern. But it is important to understand that the immune system does grow weaker with age. The medical terminology for this is immunosenescence, which is the gradual decrease of immune function that happens with age.

What Happens to the Immune System?

Once you understand that the immune system changes over time, you might start to wonder why it happens and how. Your immune system is comprised of a complex network of tissues, cells, and organs. They work together to help fight things that cause infection, most commonly, bacteria.

There are still questions about exactly why the immune system weakens, but there are some common factors that seem to happen to aging seniors:

  1. The body doesn’t respond as well to vaccines – Seniors tend to make fewer T-Cells, which are designed to attack illness-causing cells, and that means they are less likely to respond to vaccines. New T-Cells are required for vaccines to take hold.
  2. They are more likely to get sick – Since seniors have fewer immune cells as they age, they aren’t able to easily fight off sickness. The cells they do have don’t communicate as well to fight off harmful germs within the body.
  3. Slower recovery from injuries – Another common thing for seniors is a slower recovery time. Not only for illness but injuries and infections as well. Fewer white blood cells can slow the healing process.

People often wonder at what age does the immune system decline, but there isn’t a specific answer. It’s a gradual process that happens over time and is not something that is easily tested or studied.

How Seniors Can Stay Healthy and Improve Immune Function

While there is no cure for a slowing immune system, there are things seniors can do to remain healthy and fight off illness.

Below are some suggestions to help keep seniors healthy and independent for as long as possible:

  • Getting a full night’s sleep
  • Getting regular check-ups with a primary care physician
  • Reducing stress and anxiety
  • Limiting exposure to sick individuals
  • Eating healthy
  • Limiting alcohol and quitting smoking
  • Exercise regularlyAnother thing seniors can do to promote a healthy lifestyle is to stay up-to-date on vaccines. Even though they might not be as effective, it’s still important for seniors to get the annual flu vaccine and any others recommended by their doctor.

Making Healthier Choices at St. Joseph of the Pines

It is vital for seniors to maintain a healthy lifestyle in retirement. When living alone that can sometimes become challenging. At St. Joseph of the Pines, we encourage residents to prioritize their health through planned meals, exercise, and social activities. It is our goal to help residents maintain their independence for as long as possible through our programming. We invite you on a tour of our North Carolina campuses and to learn about the healthier lifestyle that awaits. Contact us today.

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