Give your immune system more time

One of the frustrations of the elderly is the fact that as time passes, all systems and senses tend to be compromised.

One of the frustrations of the elderly is the fact that as time passes, all systems and senses tend to be compromised.

Eyesight, taste, digestion, mobility, reaction time, just to name a few, begin to decline with time and as the result of years of use, and perhaps abuse.

Perhaps the most important system, in terms of risky decline, is the immune system. This is the body’s defense against disease and infection and once compromised, an individual is both more susceptible to catching something and more likely to have a severe case of it. A weakened immune system is a huge hole through which uninvited bacterial and viral guests can readily attack one’s health.

Young children and the elderly are most likely to have compromised immune systems. As well, those who have respiratory problems, diabetes, or have been treated recently with chemotherapy, also tend to have reduced resistance to invading organisms. For that matter, anyone whose health is at risk due to poor lifestyle choices, high stress or substance abuse, can fall into the category of compromised immune systems.

With the cooling fall temperatures, the tendency for windows to be closed and heating systems to be turned on results in a much greater likelihood that everyone is breathing recycled air that might contain airborne viruses. As well, with children back in school, the potential for diseases to spread throughout a population increases dramatically.  It doesn’t take much time for a virus to travel from a daycare to a seniors’ home once the movement of families is accounted for.

The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that flu-related deaths range from 2,000-8,000 a year, depending on how severe the strain of flu is during the season.  The majority of those deaths fall into the over-65 age group, and given the fact that many elderly deaths are attributed to secondary effects, like pneumonia, the numbers and proportions are likely even higher.

There is no simple answer to a compromised immune system.  The usual elements of proper diet, exercise and sleep are important but as aging occurs, even the best lifestyle is not enough.  There comes a time when you must give your immune system more time to prepare for a potential attack.

In the past 10 years, public health agencies have made persistent attempts to encourage anyone with a compromised immune system to take advantage of advances in flu vaccines. While no vaccination is a guarantee against all flu variations, it does help to fire up the immune system to be as prepared as possible when the inevitable flu season hits. It is an option every elderly person should discuss with his/her physician.


Graham Hookey writes on education, parenting and eldercare (

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