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Grief and Aging: The Impact on a Senior’s Immune System

Researching the Impact of Grief on Seniors

A study published in Immunity & Ageing explored the cause and effect of grief on seniors. Scientists were interested in determining if there was a clinical reason for the physical decline often witnessed in older adults after a loved one’s passing. While grief impacts family members of all ages, it often appears to be more significant in seniors.

This research shed light on an interesting difference between younger people who are grieving and older adults: the balance of two stress hormones, cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEAS), is different in seniors. The older a person is when they experience a loss, the more the disparity. Because these are the white blood cells that help our bodies fight infection, the senior’s risk for illness increases when these are compromised.

Protecting a Senior’s Immune System

If a senior you love is grieving, there are ways you can help them protect their immune system and decrease their risk for an illness. Some suggestions include:

  • Stay in touch. Isolation and loneliness are risk factors for depression. They can also lead to other health problems including high blood pressure, weight gain and more.
  • Encourage healthy eating. A well-balanced diet rich in leafy greens, dark fruits and lean protein can help pump up their immune system.
  • Vitamins and supplements. Suggest your senior loved one speak with their primary care physician to determine if they need to add or increase the amount of vitamins and supplements they take each day until they get through this difficult transition.
  • Keep moving. Moderate forms of exercise such as chair yoga and walking can help decrease stress and improve mental and emotional wellness.
  • Get support. Most hospice organizations have on-going bereavement and grief support groups. Encourage your family member to join one so they can share their feelings with people who can understand and empathize with them.

To learn more about the different types of support programs we offer for loved ones and family members, please visit Grief Support.