As I settle down to write about the most common digestive diseases among the elderly, my thoughts inevitably turn to my grandparents. Over the years, both of them have battled various digestive illnesses and their experiences have given me a unique insight into this topic.
I remember my grandparents being the epitome of health when I was growing up. They had boundless energy, always smiling and ready to take on anything life threw at them. Sadly, as they got older, their health began to deteriorate – especially when it came to their digestive system. Seeing them suffer like that made me so sad; they had been such an inspiration to me for so many years. It was heartbreaking to watch their condition worsen.
My grandfather always had a penchant for savory meats and fried dishes, particularly fried chicken and french fries. Meanwhile, my grandmother’s approach to gut health was woefully neglectful; she would often skip meals or eat very little, which ultimately resulted in drastic and unhealthy weight loss.
Their lack of consciousness about their gut health is what led to a series of diseases in their digestive system. It wasn’t until they started to take their gut health seriously that things started to improve. I have outlined a previous articles why it is essential for any elderly person to prioritise their gut health for overall wellbeing.
For elders out there, there are several digestive illnesses that you should watch out for, some of the most common being Dysphagia, Gastroesophageal Reflux or Gerd, Diverticula, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and constipation. All of these diseases can have serious implications if not treated in time. We will go over each of these in more detail.
Dysphagia is a condition that can cause great difficulty and discomfort while swallowing. It affects individuals of all ages, from young children to seniors, and manifests itself in varying degrees – from mild discomfort to severe pain. These symptoms can significantly reduce the quality of life, impairing the ability to eat and drink comfortably.
One of the most common diagnostic exams for dysphagia is the barium swallow. This test involves drinking a liquid that contains barium, which allows doctors to see the movement of the liquid through the esophagus on an X-ray. It can help identify any obstructions or abnormalities that may be causing the dysphagia.
In some cases, surgery may be required to decrease obstruction and improve swallowing function. However, this isn’t always necessary. In fact, there are many ways to help manage dysphagia without resorting to surgery.
One of the most important things you can do to help a loved one with dysphagia is to provide small, frequent meals that are high in nutritional value and easier to chew and swallow. Aim for softer foods like cooked vegetables, tender meats, and soft fruits instead of tougher meats or hard, crunchy vegetables. This will make it easier for your loved one to swallow the food, reducing their risk of choking. It will also help ensure they are getting all the nutrients they need from their meals.
To ensure proper digestion and reduce the risk of aspiration, it’s essential to keep your loved one upright while eating. After meals, avoid reclining or lying down as this can cause food or liquid to enter into their lungs instead of the stomach.
Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It occurs when the acid and other contents in the stomach back up into the esophagus, which can cause discomfort and painful symptoms. While occasional acid reflux is common, frequent GERD can lead to serious health complications.
One of the most common and difficult-to-manage symptoms of GERD is heartburn – a burning sensation in the chest or throat. Other associated symptoms may include regurgitation, difficulty swallowing, and chest pain. Sufferers often find their daily lives disrupted by these uncomfortable and sometimes painful sensations. I
There are several factors that can contribute to GERD. One of the most common causes is eating too late at night. When we lie down after eating, gravity is no longer working in our favor to keep stomach acid in the stomach. This can cause acid reflux and heartburn. Additionally, consuming foods that are high in fat, spicy, or fried can exacerbate GERD symptoms. Certain medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, can also contribute to reflux.
Obesity is another major risk factor for GERD. Excess weight puts pressure on the stomach, which can cause acid to back up into the esophagus. This is why maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for senior health, especially for those who suffer from GERD. Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly can help manage GERD symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.
Diverticula is a surprisingly common digestive disorder in which small pouches develop in the colon – usually near its lower section. While it often goes unnoticed, diverticula can cause abdominal discomfort such as bloating and cramping when symptoms arise.
Diverticula generally don’t cause issues. However, if they become inflamed it is known as diverticulitis – caused by fecal matter getting stuck in these pockets which can lead to infection symptoms such as fever, nausea, or abdominal pain. It’s important that any signs of this condition be diagnosed early on to avoid further complications; so make sure you seek medical attention promptly should any worrying symptoms arise!
While older adults may be more susceptible to diverticulosis, they should avoid using laxatives and enemas as treatment as these can worsen inflammation and lead to complications. A better approach is to focus on eating a diet high in fiber which helps promote healthy bowel movements and prevent future episodes of diverticulosis.
In rare cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the affected part of the colon if the condition is causing severe pain, bleeding, or other complications. This procedure can help alleviate a number of symptoms and provide relief from discomfort caused by this condition. However, it is important to consider all possible options before opting for any type of surgical intervention; your doctor can help you determine the best course of action for your individual situation.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
IBS is a common gastrointestinal disorder causing an immense burden to millions of people around the world. Sufferers experience varying levels of pain, bloating, gas, and fluctuations between diarrhea and constipation – all contributing to reduced quality of life. There is a lot of information out there on this topic so it’s important to get a basic understanding, I would recommend this simple article by Pioneer trace which is a good starting place.
The diagnosis of IBS is usually made by a healthcare professional based on the patient’s reported symptoms and medical history. In some cases, additional tests may be needed to rule out other conditions that could also cause similar symptoms. These tests can include blood work, stool samples, or imaging like an X-ray or colonoscopy. Ultimately, these tests help to accurately diagnose and provide the best treatment for IBS.
There is currently no cure for IBS, but treatment options are available to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. Avoiding trigger foods and medications is often recommended, along with increasing fiber intake through diet or supplements. Stress reduction techniques, such as meditation or yoga, may also be helpful for some people.
As we age, our digestive systems can become slower and less efficient. Constipation is a common side effect of this process; it may be caused by medication or other health issues. If you’re experiencing constipation as an older adult, consulting your doctor for advice is important to rule out any more serious underlying conditions.
Constipation can arise from various factors, such as insufficient dietary fiber intake, inadequate hydration, and the use of specific medications like opioids and antidepressants. Additionally, medical conditions including diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and hypothyroidism impede digestive system function, leading to constipation. Maintaining a high-fiber diet, staying hydrated, and addressing underlying health issues can significantly alleviate or prevent this uncomfortable condition.
Looking back, I realized how critical it is to pay attention to our gut health. The gut is often referred to as the “second brain” of the human body and for good reason. It affects everything from our mood to our immune system. Neglecting it can lead to several debilitating illnesses that can significantly impact our quality of life.
My grandparents’ firsthand experience taught me the importance of taking care of our bodies and being mindful of the foods we eat. No matter your age, it’s never too late to start making changes to your diet and living a healthier lifestyle. After all, we only have one body – so let’s show it the respect it deserves!