The body’s immune system is a remarkable and complex operation that protects your body from harmful and foreign invaders. Cells and antibodies converge on bacteria, viruses, toxins and cancer cells in order to help keep you strong and healthy. But, like many other parts of the body, years of use and sometimes neglect can wear down the healthiest of immune systems, leaving the elderly more vulnerable to disease. Fortunately, you can help strengthen your immune system no matter what phase of life you find yourself in.
According to an article in Harvard Health Publications, a form of malnutrition called “micronutrient malnutrition” is fairly common in the elderly. A deficiency in essential vitamins and trace minerals that are usually obtained through diet is evident and can be due from not choosing the right foods or a declining appetite. For this reason, it’s important that your parent focus on nutrient-dense foods so that every bite counts. Micronutrients that are particularly important to the immune system and that your parent may not be getting enough of include zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E.
Foods that are high in zinc, selenium and iron include high-quality beef, turkey, chicken, shrimp, lobster and fish. Various nuts, beans and peas are also good sources with Brazil nuts and baked beans at the top of the list. Foods rich in copper include beef liver, sunflower seeds, lentils and almonds.
The following foods are great sources for these individual vitamins:
Vitamin A: Low-fat milk and cheese, eggs, chicken, liver, and fish such as mackerel and trout. Orange and yellow vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes are high in beta carotene which is converted into vitamin A in the body.
Vitamin B6: Tuna, turkey, beef, chicken, salmon, sweet potatoes, sunflower seeds and spinach.
Vitamin C: Fresh fruits and vegetables are the main source of this potent antioxidant. Be sure that your parent is getting seven to nine servings a day. Foods particular high in this essential vitamin include oranges, red peppers, leafy greens, strawberries, grapefruit and guava.
Vitamin E: Almonds, spinach, sweet potatoes, avocadoes, wheat germ and sunflower seeds.
How to Help
As a family caregiver, you can help support your parent’s immune system by providing them with easy to prepare food that is also nutrient dense. Some examples of this include whole-grain sprouted bread topped with slices of avocado, low-fat cheese and tomatoes. If your parent has difficulty chewing nuts or seeds, nut butters are a good alternative and can be spread atop whole-grain crackers, apples or celery. Provide cut up vegetables with a bean dip such as hummus. Strawberries and blueberries in low-fat yogurt provide a nutritious snack as well.
In addition to diet, ensure that your parent is getting at least 30 minutes of exercise for a minimum of 5 days a week, engaged in social activities, and enjoying relaxing interludes such as warm baths or wonderful books in order to reduce stress and lead a long and immune-strong life.
Elderly Care Provider
An elderly care provider can assist your parent with everyday activities and support them in their effort to lead a healthy and happy life. They can do the grocery shopping, prepare immune-boosting meals and snacks, provide companionship while exercising, and encourage social engagement.
We provide quality non-medical services to our clients in their homes or in a facility if that’s where they live. Our staff is available for care plans for extensive care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or as little as 4 hours per visit. Reach out to us, and one of our outstanding administrative staff will meet with potential clients to assist them and their families in designing an effective, personal plan of care.