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Health & Illness of the Aging Population: Definition & Trends

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  • 0:01 Health vs. Illness
  • 1:53 Immune System
  • 3:46 Diseases
  • 4:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

In this lesson, we will examine the changes that occurs to the immune system as a person ages. In addition to this, we examine the difference between what it means to be healthy and what it means to be ill, as well as different types of diseases that may afflict you.

Health vs. Illness

An interesting fact that most people don't know is that everyone - you, me, my boss, your boss, all of us - have precancerous cells. Everyone has it. Cancer is a mutated cell that is not doing its job and often growing at an exponential rate. The thing is our immune system keeps these precancerous cells in check so they don't become cancer. It's only when there is a failure in the immune system, or you get some kind of super cancer, that the cancer becomes a capital 'C' cancer.

Health is a positive physical and mental status and not just the absence of disease or disorder. While we did just talk about how people have cancerous cells in their bodies, you and I don't really feel their effects. They aren't draining our health from us. Unless it is for you, in which case that sucks. Basically, you have your health and feel good, you don't have your health and fell meh, or you have an illness.

Illness is an ailment, illness, or disease that affects the physical or mental abilities of an individual. Here we have someone who is suffering from something. Everyone has had a cold or the flu, and they have lost their health due to illness. You can't run as fast or as long and your brain can do some funny things when it's tired from fighting the virus.

As we age, there are changes that occur to the body. One of the less visible changes is to the immune system. This fairly complex system is what keeps you healthy and illness at bay. Let's look at how the immune system changes as we age and then at the development of different types of disorders.

Immune System

In other lessons, we discuss the changes that occur to the body as it ages, and none of them look good. When it comes to the immune system, it doesn't get any better. In fact, it gets a lot worse. You can live with gray hair pretty easily, but an autoimmune-disorder may develop. An autoimmune-disorder is when the body's immune system mistakes your own tissue as an invader. Some of these are arthritic where the immune system attacks the joints, causing the lubricant to wear away and making it a bone-on-bone movement or leaving the whole joint twisted. Other times, it attacks various organs, leading to the organ's death and a huge amount of pain.

We could say that since the body is attacking itself, that it is still doing its job, right? Well, the immune responses are slower, and vaccinations may not work as well or protect as long. So your immune system is like an old dog here. It doesn't do as much as it did when it was younger. And even when there is an intruder, it doesn't react like it did in its youth.

Healing is also slowed down in older people, meaning open cuts and sores expose the body to more pathogens and ailments. This basically means every cut and every scratch will stick around longer and act like a big, open door to let all those nasties out in the world.

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