With the onset of age, the ability of the human system to fight infection and other health problems is seriously impaired. This is because the immune system in someone of advanced years does not perform as competently as it used to. The reason is that it is incapable of producing lymphocytes, or not in the required numbers.
Lymphocytes are cells produced by the lymph glands, necessary to the body’s manufacture of antibodies which fight infection.
For example, when a younger person develops a bacterial infection, the body’s automatic response is to mount a fever to kill the cells that carry the infection. This reaction does not take place in a person of advanced years. The fever may develop but the central nervous system is indifferent and its response to the potential bacterial threat is slow or unresponsive.
The human body aged 70 and above is very likely to produce auto-antibodies instead. These are factors that play a role in atherosclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, for example, where the parts of the body are attacked instead of the infection itself.
Nutrition has a vital role to play in the health of the immune system. Vitamin and dietary supplements have been found to augment the reaction of the immune system in both healthy and nutritionally deprived older adults.
Depressed immunity has been linked to stress, often resulting from bereavement, poor social support and depression. Receiving appropriate treatment and maintaining an active social life can vastly enhance the immune system of the older adult.
With the susceptibility of the older adult to infections, it is advisable to develop immunity by way of vaccinations to influenza, pneumonia, diphtheria, tetanus, tuberculosis and hepatitis B. These infections, which can be avoided, account for a large number of mortalities in older adults.
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