Aging Changes in Immunity
Normal changes in the immune system occur as an individual ages. The immune system seeks out and destroys invaders that can harm the body.
What is the information for this topic?
The main job of the immune system is to fight off infections. It also plays a role in helping to stop cancer in the body. The function of the immune system declines with age. This does not mean that people get sick more often. But, as people get older, the risk of illness does increase.
With age, the number of immune cells may decrease slightly. More importantly, the functioning of these cells declines. The cells are often less able to control illness than in earlier years. As a person ages, the immune system produces less antibodies. It also responds more slowly to injury, infection, or disease.
Cells of the immune system can also lose their ability to tell the difference between normal and abnormal tissue. When this occurs, it can lead to autoimmune disorder, a condition in which the immune system attacks the person's own body. The ability to identify and fight cancer is also decreased. This is thought to be one reason that the risk of many cancers increases with age.
Other body changes allow more bacteria to enter the body. For example, aging skin provides less protection against bacteria than younger skin. If the immune system worked well, this would not be a big problem. However, because of the age-related weakness in the immune system, these other changes can also increase the risk of infections.
Other factors that contribute to how effectively the body can fight infection include:
environmental and psychological factors, such as stress, depression, and anxiety
hormonal changes within the body
illnesses or conditions, such as diabetes
personal habits, such as abusing alcohol or illegal drugs
To minimize the risk of infection and cancer, people should:
avoid smoking and secondhand smoke
drink alcohol moderately or not at all
eat a well-balanced diet, following the food guide pyramid
follow the healthcare provider's recommendations about pneumonia vaccines, tetanus boosters, and flu shots
get enough rest
implement home safety measures to reduce the chance of injury
maintain an active lifestyle
obtain effective treatment for diseases and conditions, such as diabetes