Immunity and Aging (Quality Life Forum Self-Care Series) Health Coaching Session, November 2017
The air is getting cooler again; have you got your flu shot? Or you may still undecided, should I get one? The immune system helps protect human body from foreign or harmful substances. Examples are bacteria, viruses, toxins, cancer cells, and blood or tissues from another person. When growing older, the body’s immune function declines.
While some people age healthily, the conclusion of many studies is that, compared with younger people, the elderly are more likely to contract infectious diseases and, even more importantly, more likely to die from them. Respiratory infections, influenza, and particularly pneumonia are a leading cause of death in people over 65 worldwide. The aging process somehow leads to a reduction of immune response capability, which in turn contributes to more infections, more inflammatory diseases, and more cancer.
How to protect overall immunity? A strong immunity is the first line defense for illness. Healthy life style and behaviors are the essential factors. The immune system will functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies.
Although the immune response is a body function you can’t control, these healthy habits and behaviors will benefit immunity:
Maintain a peaceful and content mentality; control extreme emotions and mood swings.
Maintain good personal hygiene and proper hand washing reduce the risks of infections
Food preparation and drinking water safety – prevent contamination from oral intake
DO NOT smoke and limit alcohol intake.
Eat healthy for good nutrition and keep body weight within normal range for your age. For example, eat a whole orange has more nutritional value than the orange juice or vitamin C pills. There appears to be a connection between nutrition and immunity in the elderly. Micro-nutrient malnutrition, in which a person is deficient in some essential vitamins and trace minerals that are obtained from or supplemented by diet, can be common in the elderly. Healthy immune system warriors need good, regular nourishment.
Exercise safely and regularly – Being active contributes to general good health and therefore benefits the immune system. However, extremely challenging physical activities and high intensity training is a stressor to the body and weaken the immunity.
Maintain adequate sleep (7 – 9 hours at night) is beneficial for good health. Sufficient rest will allow body to recover from physical fatigue and mental exhaustion.
Maintain regularity of daily routine. Human body has an internal body clock that follows a daily 24-cycle known as a circadian rhythm. The body clock, also known as a circadian clock, responds primarily to environmental cues, such as light and darkness, as well as genes that influence how quickly or slowly our body clock runs and, as a result, how closely it aligns with the 24-hour day. Nearly every tissue and organ in the body is governed by its own circadian clock, which is responsible not only for controlling our sleep patterns, but for synchronizing every biological process — body temperature, blood pressure, hormones, etc, to the time of day. When the body clock is disrupted, whether by occasional or continuous interruptions of sleeping patterns, and the natural circadian rhythm is either slowed or accelerated, all sorts of stuff can go wrong.
Vaccination - It is important for older adults to keep vaccines current.
The most important vaccinations seniors should discuss with their physicians include the flu vaccine, pneumococcal vaccine to prevent pneumonia, shingles vaccine, and a tetanus-diptheria-pertussis vaccine (Tdap).
A reduction in immune response to infections has been demonstrated by older people's response to vaccines. For example, studies of influenza vaccines have shown that for people over age 65, the vaccine is much less effective compared to healthy children (over age 2). But despite the reduction in efficacy, vaccinations for influenza and S. pneumoniae have significantly lowered the rates of sickness and death in older people when compared with no vaccination.
What is the flu? The flu—or influenza—is a contagious respiratory illness that can be severe and life-threatening.
Why is it important for older adults to get the flu shot? Older adults—even if you are healthy—are at higher risk when it comes to the flu due to age-related weakening of our immune systems, making it more difficult for us to fight off disease. For the 86% of adults 65+ who are managing a chronic condition—like diabetes or heart disease—the flu can be even more dangerous because you are more likely to develop complications or become hospitalized. Flu combined with pneumonia—a common acute condition among the aging population—is one of the top 10 causes of death for those aged 65+ in the U.S. According to the CDC, the flu vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu. To address the increased risks faced by the aging population, a higher-dose version of the flu vaccine was created specifically for older adults – talk to your doctor today about this option.
When should you get the flu shot? You should get a flu shot annually. For older adults, it’s best that you get your vaccine as early in the season as possible to prevent contracting the flu from a loved one, caregiver, or friend. Flu season in the U.S. is typically between October and May, with peaks between December and February, meaning it’s vital for you to get your shot before the holidays start. It’s important to note that it does take two weeks after getting the shot for your body to build up full immunity.
Where can you get the flu shot? Doctor’s office, local clinic or drug store, and many senior centers also schedule a flu shot day.
Almost every mother has said this “keep warm or you'll catch a cold” and we have believed that if you are cold, you will get a cold, naturally. Researchers documented an increase in upper respiratory infections in competitive cross-country skiers who exercise vigorously in the cold, but whether these infections are due to the cold or other factors — such as the intense exercise or the dryness of the air — is not known. So far, researchers who are studying this question think that normal exposure to moderate cold doesn't increase your susceptibility to infection. Most health experts agree that the reason winter is "cold and flu season" is not that people are cold, but that they spend more time indoors, in closer contact with other people who can pass on their germs. A group of Canadian researchers that has reviewed hundreds of medical studies on the subject and conducted some of its own research concludes that there's no need to worry about moderate cold exposure — it has no detrimental effect on the human immune system.
You should bundle up in cold temperature for comfort and hypothermia prevention. Cool air is refreshing and perfect for outdoor fitness activities. Stay away from congested warm indoors will reduce common cold and flu risks.
What is pneumococcal disease? Pneumococcal disease causes severe infections throughout the bloodstream and/or key organs. While you may not have heard of pneumococcal disease, you have probably heard of the conditions that result from this disease, including pneumonia (infection of the lungs), meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord), and bacteremia (infection of the bloodstream). Pneumococcal disease can result in deafness, brain damage, loss of limbs, and even death.
Why is it important for older adults to get the pneumococcal vaccine? Pneumococcal disease kills 18,000 adults 65+ each year. A weakening immune system means that older adults are at greater risk, and can face more severe side effects, especially those who are managing chronic diseases.
When should you get the pneumococcal vaccine? The pneumococcal vaccine—you may hear people call it the pneumonia vaccine—is actually two shots given about a year apart.
Where can you get the pneumococcal vaccine? You can usually make an appointment with your doctor to receive the vaccine, or visit your local clinic or pharmacy.
How does Medicare cover the cost of the flu and pneumococcal vaccine? Original Medicare covers the influenza, pneumonia, and Hepatitis B vaccines with no coinsurance or deductible if you see a provider who accepts assignment. Your Part D plan will pay for the vaccination itself and for your doctor or other health care provider to give you the shot (administration).
What is Shingles? Shingles is a painful skin rash that’s caused by the same virus responsible for chickenpox. Shingles is less contagious than chickenpox, and can only be passed on to another person up until the point when the infected person’s blisters begin to scab. Even after shingles passes, long-term pain can linger.
Why is it important for older adults to get the shingles vaccine? Researchers believe that the age-related weakening of our immune systems can trigger the “reawakening” of the dormant chickenpox virus. One in three adults contracts shingles at some point in their life—the majority of whom are 60 years or older—and the older you are when you get shingles, the more likely you are to have severe side effects, like fever, exhaustion and loss of appetite. These can lead to malnutrition, physical deterioration and/or additional infections. Whether you remember having chickenpox as a child or not, you should talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated.
When should you get the shingles vaccine? The shingles vaccine is a one-time vaccination that all adults aged 50+ should receive—even if you have already had shingles. As the vaccine’s effectiveness only lasts five years, and given that symptoms become more severe with age, it could be better for some to wait until they are aged 60+ to get the injection, but you should consult your doctor to learn what is best for you.
Where can you get the shingles vaccine? Your physician or local pharmacy can administer the shingles vaccine.
How does Medicare cover the cost of the shingles vaccine? All Medicare Part D drug plans, or Medicare Advantage plans that include prescription coverage, typically cover the shingles vaccine. However, there is usually an out-of-pocket cost. Depending on your plan, you will either be responsible for a copayment (fixed dollar amount) or coinsurance (percentage of the vaccine’s cost). You are likely to have the least out-of-pocket expenses if you use a pharmacy in your plan’s network. Each plan has specific rules for covering the vaccine itself, as well as the administration of the injection, so it’s best to contact your insurance company directly to find out your specific out-of-pocket cost, and any rules you must follow regarding where you receive the vaccine.
As you get older, your immune systems tend to weaken over time, putting you at higher risk for certain diseases. This is why Td or Tdap vaccine (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) is also important.
The take home messages
A strong immunity is the first line defense for illness and it is built overtime. No magic for a quick fix. Healthy life style and behaviors are the essential factors. The immune system will functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies.
Well regulate quality nutrition, exercise, and rest/sleep is the key to build and maintain a strong immune system. Most importantly, keep up a positive, peaceful, and content mentality. Emotional state and mood swings weaken the immune system.
Many products on store shelves claim to boost or support immunity, but the concept of boosting immunity actually makes little sense scientifically.
Vaccination for prevention is strongly encouraged for older adults, as immune systems tend to decline over time, putting seniors at higher risk for certain diseases. The most important vaccinations seniors should discuss with their physicians include the flu vaccine, pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccine, shingles vaccine, and a tetanus-diptheria-pertussis vaccine (Tdap).
Disclaimer: This information is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not medical advice. Consult your healthcare professional for personal conditions.
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