What Are the Complications of Weakened Immune System in Old Age People?
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Complications of Weakened Immune System in Old Age People

Published on Jan 23, 2023 and last reviewed on Feb 21, 2023   -  5 min read


The immune system gets weakened with age, which may lead to recurrent diseases. However, adopting timely measures can help manage the illness to an extent.


The immune system initiates war to protect the body from invaders. Without an active immune system, it would be hard to withstand infections caused by microorganisms. Aging can weaken this system, reducing the response initiated by infections or inflammations. Therefore, it can lead to recurrent health issues, the primary companion during old age.

How Does the Immune System Work?

The immune system contains cells, tissues, organs, and proteins that help the body fight against diseases and infections. The main organs of the immune system are the skin, mucous membrane, and the organs of the lymphatic system. When germs enter the body, the skin and mucous membrane initiate the first line of defense mechanism.

The organs of the lymphatic system will provide the next line of protection. The primary organs are the bone marrow, spongy material found inside the bone, and the thymus, an organ located above the heart and below the breast bone.

The secondary lymphoid organs include lymph nodes, spleen, tonsils, and some tissues in the mucous membrane lining. Bean-shaped organs called lymph nodes act as filters, and the spleen controls the level of blood cells and fights against the invaders in the blood. Tonsils stop foreign bodies from entering through the mouth or throat. The bowel's mucous membrane also plays an essential role in developing immunity.

What Are the Symptoms of a Weakened Immune System in Old Age?

With age, the immune power gets impaired, showing some significant signs in an individual.

  • Recurrent Infections - The frequency of disease increases with age. There may need to be more than a proper treatment regimen or preventive methods to prevent the intermittent occurrence of colds and flu.

  • Autoimmune Disorders - Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system defends its cells. Sjogren's syndrome and giant cell arteritis (GCA) are some common autoimmune diseases in old age.

  • Delayed Healing - With age, the time required for wound healing increases. Wound healing occurs in the inflammatory, regenerative, and remodeling phases, all of which get impaired during old age.

  • Increased Risk of Cancer - The risk of getting cancer increases with age. Age speeds up the inclusion of new habits and a different lifestyle, which may lead to cellular changes called mutation, causing cancer.

Cancer in Old Age, Why and How?

Smoking, prolonged exposure to sunlight, viral infection, drinking hot tea or coffee, excessive alcohol consumption, and unhealthy eating pattern are some factors predisposing some to increased proliferation of inflammatory cells.

Following a healthy diet, treating chronic inflammatory conditions, and taking antioxidants can prevent the severity of symptoms. In addition, spreading awareness by providing education on early detection and preventive measures is necessary.

Why Would Healing Get Tough With Age?

  • Pre-existing Diseases - Underlying health problems worsen with aging and may affect healing. Diabetes is a systemic condition strongly related to aging. In diabetes, wound healing gets affected by the narrowing of blood vessels, leading to the inadequate circulation of nutrients and oxygen to the wound area, thus prolonging the healing time.

  • Aging Cells - Cells also age as the body ages - cellular senescence - and lose their ability to divide. These aged cells accumulate on the skin and may lead to skin thinning. Thin skin is more prone to injuries than healthy and will take time to heal. In addition, senescent cells cannot defend against microorganisms and can lead to wound infections.

  • Injuries to the Whole Body Cells - All the tissues in the body may get injured with age, which can either be spontaneous and discrete or small and recurrent. The delayed rate of remodeling remains problematic in both cases.

  • Autoimmune Disorders in Old Age - Autoimmune diseases occur when abnormal self-antibodies or autoantibodies in the blood react to self-proteins. Sjogren's syndrome and Giant cell arteritis are common in old-age autoimmune diseases.

What Is Sjogren’s Syndrome?

It is a systemic autoimmune disease affecting the entire body. It is a risk factor in the development of blood cancers.

What Are the Symptoms of Sjogren’s Syndrome?

  • Dry Eyes - This is the symptom affecting the eyes, causing irritation, pain, gritty feeling, burning sensation, increased risk of infection, and corneal damage.

  • Dry Mouth - Dry mouth is characterized by difficulty eating and swallowing foods, dental cavities, chipping, breaking, or losing the tooth, gingivitis (inflammation of gums), candidiasis (an infection caused by a fungus), and other infections.

  • Tiredness - The other symptoms get accompanied by fatigue and sleep abnormalities.

  • Musculoskeletal Pain - Swelling and joint pain and stiffness of muscles may be felt in Sjogren's syndrome. Swelling may be accompanied by rashes, especially on the legs.

How to Treat Sjogren’s Syndrome in the Elderly?

The doctor may prescribe corticosteroids to relieve symptoms related to systemic changes. In addition, artificial tears during the day and ointments during the night may help relieve the dryness of the eyes. The ophthalmologist may advise using eye drops to treat infections. Drinking water, using saliva substitutes, and chewing sugar-free gums or candies can help to relieve dry mouth. The dentist may prescribe topical antifungal gels or ointments to treat the infections caused by reduced salivary flow.

What Is Giant Cell Arteritis (GCA)?

It is an autoimmune disease characterized by the inflammation of arteries, the blood vessels that distribute blood rich in oxygen to the body. The inflammation may usually affect the head and neck, causing vision changes and headaches.

What Are the Symptoms of Giant Cell Arteritis?

  • Severe headache and tenderness.

  • Pain in the jaw area while chewing.

  • Vision changes like double vision, vision loss, or sudden permanent vision loss in a single eye.

  • Fever and tiredness.

  • Weight loss.

  • Muscular pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulders, commonly known as polymyalgia rheumatica.

How to Treat Giant Cell Arteritis?

The doctor will analyze the symptoms and may prescribe steroids as the primary medication, especially when GCA gets accompanied by polymyalgia rheumatica. In addition, anti-inflammatory drugs can relieve inflammatory reactions in GCA.

How to Understand the Weakening of Immunity?

Graying of hair may symbolize aging. Similarly, a weakened immune system can be primarily diagnosed by symptoms. Consulting a doctor regularly and carrying out all the advised checkups can help understand the type of disease the person has. Timely tests and medical appointments will help the doctor prescribe apt medicines before the condition worsens.

How to Strengthen Immunity in Old Age?

  • Checkup and Control - Systemic diseases, including diabetes, and inflammatory conditions like arthritis, should be kept under frequent observation, and medications should be taken for symptomatic relief and to keep the disease under control. In particular, people with diabetes should keep sugar under control to prevent infections and inflammations.

  • Stay Active - Movements strengthen the immune system the same way it makes the body. So staying active by doing physical activities and mild-to-moderate exercises will help prevent infections in old age.

  • Eat for the Immune System - A diet including the required minerals and nutrients may prevent weakened immune systems. It will also help manage and reduce weight and improve fitness and health.

  • Stay Away From Stress - Sound sleep and stress management promotes health. Elders get worried about the passing age and the diseases they already have or might get. It can directly impair the quality of sleep and indirectly affect immunity. Stay stress-free by practicing mindful exercises, yoga, and meditation.

  • No Smoking - Quit smoking and alcohol consumption which can accelerate the cure and the benefits of the treatment the person is undergoing.

  • Preventive Methods - Get preventive medical assistance in the form of vaccinations to prevent shingles (a viral infection causing skin rashes), flu, or pneumococcal infections.


The immune system sends strong soldiers to fight for health. The weakening of the system is normal and happens gradually with age. Following appropriate lifestyle modification and health care may help to slow down the weakening or help reduce the severity of symptoms. Remember, a healthy immune system equals a healthy body.

Last reviewed at:
21 Feb 2023  -  5 min read




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