THe Wesley Community as seen from the air. A series of buildings, including two 14 story towers, surrounded by an abundance of green areas.

How to Help an Older Adult Build a Stronger Immune System

It is important for seniors to have a strong immune system. Here’s what you should know.

A happy senior couple standing together in a kitchen.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month. It’s a campaign designed to help people of all ages learn about vaccines that help guard against illness and disease. While vaccines are often associated with children, some vaccines are unique to and essential for older adults.

Vaccines aren’t the only method of maintaining a strong immune system, however. There are additional steps you can take to naturally boost your body’s immunity. It’s important to do all you can to protect yourself and the older adults in your life.

Here’s a quick look at both avenues for staying fit and strong as you grow older.

Senior Immunizations: 4 Vaccines to Discuss with Your Doctor

  • Annual flu shot: For seniors, the seasonal flu can be especially dangerous. Older adults account for half of all flu-related hospitalizations and 75% of all deaths. Physicians generally recommend seniors get the flu shot as early as October to build immunity.
  • Pneumococcal vaccine: Pneumonia is another health issue that is sometimes deadly for seniors. According to AARP, older adults should have two different pneumonia vaccines. Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) is administered first, followed one year later by a dose of pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23). If an adult under the age of 65 is considered high risk, a physician may recommend getting one dose each of PCV13 and PPSV23, spaced eight weeks apart.
  • Shingrix vaccine: Shingles is a painful condition that causes a rash and skin blisters and may result in permanent nerve damage. A newer vaccine that helps protect seniors against it is Shingrix. Two doses are needed, administered two to six months apart. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the vaccine is far better than those available in the past. If you’ve received a shingles shot other than Shingrix, the recommendation is to be vaccinated again.
  • Tdap and Td booster: This booster protects you from tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough. In most cases, physicians say individuals should have the Tdap vaccine once. After that, it is necessary to receive the Td booster every ten years.

Finally, depending on your lifestyle and personal risk, you might also need a Hepatitis A or B vaccine. The Adult Vaccine Assessment Tool from the CDC is a quick assessment you can complete. Use the results to discuss immunizations with your doctor.

Natural Immune Boosters for Older Adults

There are natural methods, from probiotics to exercise, that seniors can use to pump up immunity, including:

  • Diet: Consuming a healthy diet is one of the best steps you can take to build a strong immune system. Lean protein, fresh vegetables and fruit, good hydration, and fiber should all be staples in your daily menus. MyPlate for Older Adults has good tips for helping seniors consume a well-balanced diet.
  • Exercise: Staying physically fit is an important part of maintaining a healthy immune system at any age. Senior-Friendly Forms of Exercise has a list of different fitness activities older adults can try.
  • Vitamins: There’s no doubt that the best way to get the vitamins your body needs is through your diet. If you aren’t able to achieve the recommended intake from your food, however, it may be necessary to turn to vitamin supplements. Talk with your doctor about which ones you need and how much.
  • Stress Management: Whether through meditation, yoga, or journaling, learning how to relieve stress is essential. When you live with chronic stress, your body produces greater amounts of the hormone cortisol. That, in turn, increases inflammation, which puts you at risk for a variety of illnesses. Stress also decreases lymphocytes, the white blood cells that help fight off infection.
  • Sleep: Getting a good night’s rest isn’t easy for many older adults. Issues ranging from health conditions to medication side effects make many seniors notoriously bad sleepers. If you are one, talk to your physician. They might suggest a sleep study to identify the cause and potential treatment.

The Wesley Community Responds to COVID-19

If you are wondering how The Wesley is responding to the COVID-19 crisis, we encourage you to visit Coronavirus Updates. You’ll find everything from weekly virus updates to suggestions for visiting with loved ones through video chat services.