Boosting an Aging Immune System
Posted: 12/28/2016 5:25 PM by
The body’s immune system is a remarkable mechanism consisting of intricate biological processes that protect people against foreign invaders. Cells, tissues and organs work in unison to defend against unwanted bacteria, virus, parasites and fungi.
Age and the Immune System
Like any system, the more wear and tear, the more susceptible it becomes to breaking down. In the elderly, this accounts for the following changes.
- Autoimmune disorders become more prevalent due to the immune system’s inability to distinguish the bad invaders from the healthy tissues.
- The immune system slows down causing cancer cells and bacteria along with other invaders better opportunity to invade before being destroyed.
- Fewer white blood cells account for decreased ability to defend against new, unrecognized invaders.
If this sounds like a war, in many ways it is. If the victor is the immune system, people are unaware that their body has just encountered and defeated a foreign invader. If the immune system is not successful, disease, from the common cold to cancer, results.
Beefing up the Immune System
As a family caregiver, doing all you can to help your aging parent support their immune system is vital to their well-being. Fortunately, the immune system is resilient and a little bit of support goes a long way in helping it do its job of protecting the human body.
- Stress Reduction Techniques. The importance of reducing stress cannot be undervalued. Research suggests that there is a strong correlation between stress and the effects of aging on the immune system. Stress has been shown to reduce natural killer cells, cells that fight tumors and infections. If stress continues for a few days or longer, all aspects of immunity go downhill. Techniques to reduce stress include staying focused in the present, otherwise known as mindful awareness. Keeping focused in the present keeps you from worrying about the future or regretting errors in the past, two activities that increase stress with no benefit. Tai chi and yoga are two exercises that promote such mindfulness and are commonly taught at local senior community centers.
- Healthy Diet and Exercise. The immune system feeds off of healthy food and loves an increased flow in circulation that helps flush out foreign invaders. A healthy diet consists of nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily along with low-fat meats such as fish or chicken, low-fat dairy, and whole-grains. What you exclude from the diet is also important. Smoking is a definite drainer on the immune system as well as over-indulging in alcohol or sugar-laden drinks. Exercise that promotes stress reduction involves aerobic and muscle strengthening. The key is exercise at a moderate pace. Exhaustion can actually impede the immune system. Accompanying your parent on a daily walk may be all they need.
As a family caregiver, it’s important to care for yourself as well as your aging parent. If you find yourself feeling the effects of stress or gulping down unhealthy food as a result of time constraints, consider adding a home care provider to your caregiving team. They can assist with the daily activities of living, prepare healthy meals, accompany your parent on walks as well as provide transportation. And you can take the time you need to care for yourself as well as caring for your parent.
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