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Medica Superspecialty Hospital

Does Our Immune System Age As Well?

It has suddenly become an integral part of our daily lexicon as we all grapple with the perils of the pandemic in our own ways. Our ‘immune system’, or the body’s built-in safeguard against diseases and disorders, seems to have come under real threat, especially among the older population.

It’s not really rocket science that the elderly don’t respond to immune challenges as robustly as the young. As we get older, it often seems we can’t run so fast anymore, fall sick more often and take longer to feel better. The immune system is a highly complex ecosystem of cells, tissues, and organs, defending the body against infection, and while the senior citizens are not necessarily immuno-deficient, they often fail to respond steadfastly to new or previously encountered antigens.

Scientists studying age-related cellular changes that occur in the T cell-dependent immune system and the molecular events that precipitate those, ascribe the phenomenon to the physiological “thymic atrophy” which starts in an early stage of life. T cells, which are programmed to attack other, illness-causing cells, are able to “memorize” an invader and defend against it better when confronted with it again. As one gets older, the body makes fewer T cells. Well, that’s the root of the problem.

But cheer up. You can still stay on top of your health even if you are 60 or 70-plus, by just sticking to some basics:

  • Manage chronic conditions better: If you have diabetes, arthritis, asthma or other similar illnesses, follow your doctor’s recommendations to a T. Better-controlled diabetes or hypertension puts less stress on your immune system.
  • Get adequate sleep: It is scientifically proven that too little sleep or poor-quality sleep lowers immunity. A minimum of 7 hours’ sleep is imperative to help your body repair itself properly. Look out for symptoms of sleep disorders like apnea.
  • Control stress: Stress is today’s biggest urban killer and anxiety affects the old as much as those in their prime. Worse, stress can invite trouble in the form of poor sleep, IBS, hypertension and even panic attacks, any of which could affect your immunity.
  • Avoid exposure: Covid-19 has ingrained in us the need for appropriate behavior to hoodwink the virus. However, the elderly must do it all the time, pandemic or not. It’s important to steer clear of sick people, to guard against germ exposure, because they are more likely to fall prey to the germ, besides maintaining meticulous hand hygiene, etc.
  • Take your vaccines: It is still extremely important to continue with your annual inoculation routine to keep infections like flu and pneumonia at bay.
  • Stay active: Any form of exercise — whatever suits you best — helps you keep fit and keeps your immune system strong. Scientists say physical activity helps cells move more freely and do their job better.
  • Healthy diet: A healthy, balanced diet replete with vitamins and minerals that come from fresh vegetables and fruits keeps your immune system robust and helps you watch your weight.
  • Quit smoking: Smoking not only severely affects your immune response, it leaves the door ajar for serious illnesses and infection. So kick it today if you still haven’t.
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