Why Do Seniors Have a Higher Risk of Developing Complications From the Flu?


sick senior woman blowing nose to paper napkinIt’s well known that the elderly have a harder time fending off diseases, including the flu. The common symptoms of flu (aching, chills, sore throat, headache, runny nose, etc.) may be much worse for seniors, and the disease is more likely to lead to other complications. These complications may include:

But why?

Age and the Immune System

Ultimately, it comes down to a weaker immune system. The older you get, the weaker your immune system will become, which makes it much more difficult to fight off infections like the flu virus. When the virus attacks a person who has weakened immunity, the symptoms tend to be much worse and may lead to complications, even after the disease itself has been warded off.

How the Immune System Works

To understand how age affects immunity, let’s look at the immune system itself. Simply put, your body uses white blood cells in the blood stream to respond to infections and remove them. These cells come in various forms, including T cells, which do much of the coordinating of immune function, and macrophages, which directly ingest foreign cells. Antibodies are also produced, and these serve the purpose of marking infections.

So What Happens?

A variety of immune functions are negatively impacted by old age. A few examples are:

  • White blood cells diminish in number
  • The thymus gland, which produces T cells, shrinks with age
  • T cells themselves cease to function as efficiently as they did in earlier years
  • Macrophages work slower as well
  • Antibody production drops, and antibodies themselves don’t do their job as well as before

These changes make the body less able to cope with diseases, including the flu, pneumonia, and other infections. This allows them to run rampant in the body unchecked, making diseases that much worse.

Senior Care Centers is aware of the needs elders have during the flu season. To learn more about how we help our residents, contact us today.

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