The ageing process impacts all areas of our bodies, including our immune systems. This can mean that older people are unwell more often, or that an illness affects them more severely than younger people. 

In this blog, we look at the reasons for these changes in the immune system, and what adults can do to ensure they stay as healthy as possible as they age: 

Changes over time: 

Fewer T-cells 

The T-cells are the parts of the immune system which fight off infection and illness. They ‘remember’ specific cells so that they can fight against them more effectively the next time the person is exposed to the same virus or bacteria. That is why live vaccines contain a small amount of the cells they are designed to protect against, to activate the T-cells so they can protect against that specific condition or infection in future. 

As we get older, we produce fewer T-cells. So essentially there are fewer guards protecting our bodies against invading cells. 

Fewer white blood cells 

White blood cells protect the body against infection, and we make more white blood cells whenever we are unwell. But as we age, we naturally have fewer of these cells present – which makes it more difficult to fight off whatever illness we have caught. That is why older people can sometimes take longer to recover from the same illness that those around them fight off more easily. 

Chronic inflammation 

A chronic pro-inflammatory status is a pervasive feature of aging. This chronic low-grade inflammation occurring in the absence of overt infection has been defined as “inflammaging” and represents a significant risk factor for morbidity and mortality in the elderly. 

Source of Chronic Inflammation in Aging – PMC ( 

Research shows that our immune systems become inflamed as we age, which again makes it more difficult for us to fight off infection. It also means we are more at risk of certain illness as older adults, including hypertension, diabetes and cancer. 

How to support your immune system as you age: 

While we cannot completely eradicate the effects of ageing on the immune system, there are many things we can do to preserve our ability to fight off illness. 

  • A balanced diet and not smoking can reduce the chronic inflammation often found in older people’s immune systems. 
  • Sleep well: “Research clearly shows that too little sleep – or poor-quality sleep – lowers immunity, even in young healthy people.” The Immunity Challenge: How aging affects your immune system ( 
  • Reduce your risk: While completely avoiding people who are unwell is difficult, older people may want to be more cautious about spending time with family or friends who are displaying systems of illness.  
  • Exercise: Being as active as possible is another positive way to reduce the effects of ageing on your immune system. 

If you would like to know more about the support we can provide for older people who may need care in their home, do get in touch with us. And remember we have an expert physiotherapy team on hand to help those who may be recovering from injury, as well as being able to provide falls prevention advice for older people at risk. 

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