Aging and the Digestive System: Understanding GI Issues in Older Adults
Updated: 6 days ago
As we age, our bodies undergo several changes on the outside, as well as on the inside. One major change that occurs in the body is the altering of our digestive system. As our digestive system is crucial to ensuring our bodies receive the proper nutrients it requires, changes to the digestive system can have far-reaching consequences.
Changes to the digestive system can lead to several gastrointestinal issues (GI) in seniors and they aren’t always that easy to manage.
Here at Christian Companions, we know how much of an impact GI issues can have on the daily lives of seniors and hope to share some insight as well as tips for seniors dealing with digestive issues.
How GI Problems Can Affect Senior Health and Daily Life
One of the most noticeable changes that occurs when our digestive system is disrupted is a decrease in the production of digestive enzymes. Digestive enzymes are essential components for breaking down food, and when their production decreases, it can lead to poor digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Poor absorption of nutrients can have a range of negative effects on seniors' lives:
Weakened Immune System
When seniors are not absorbing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants properly, their immune system may become weaker, leaving them more susceptible to illnesses and infections.
Reduced Energy and Stamina
When seniors are not getting enough nutrients like iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid due to poor absorption, they may feel more fatigued and have less energy to complete daily tasks.
Poor absorption of these nutrients can contribute to cognitive decline, memory loss, and other neurological issues.
Bone Health Issues
Nutrients like calcium and vitamin D are crucial for maintaining strong bones. Poor absorption of these nutrients can contribute to bone density loss, osteoporosis, and an increased risk of fractures.
Common Gastrointestinal Problems in Seniors
Constipation is a pretty common GI issue among seniors. Properly defined, constipation is having fewer than three bowel movements per week or difficulty passing stools. Constipation can cause discomfort, pain, and could even develop into complications like hemorrhoids or fecal impaction. To help avoid constipation, it’s essential for seniors to stay hydrated, eat fiber-rich foods, and to exercise regularly.
Diarrhea is another common GI issue that seniors face. And while we may all have the unfortunate first-hand knowledge of what diarrhea is, let’s go ahead and define it anyways: Diarrhea is having loose, watery stools three or more times a day. The dangerous thing about diarrhea is its ability to leave us dehydrated, weak, and malnourished if it persists for too long.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also commonly referred to as acid reflux, is a condition whereby stomach acid flows back into the esophagus. GERD causes heartburn, chest pain, hoarseness and a sore throat.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
IBS is a chronic GI disorder that affects the large intestine (the colon) and causes it to become hypersensitive to normal digestive movements. Symptoms can range from abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.
Gastrointestinal bleeding is a serious condition affecting seniors for a variety of reasons and occurs when there is bleeding in any part of the digestive system, from the mouth to the rectum. Some common symptoms include:
Blood in the stool
Vomiting blood or material that looks like coffee grounds
Abdominal pain or discomfort
Diarrhea or constipation
Weakness or lightheadedness
The Vital Role of In-home Caregiving in GI Issue Management
In-home caregivers can work with seniors to create healthy and balanced meal plans that are tailored to their individual GI needs. This can include incorporating more fiber-rich foods, probiotics, and limiting trigger foods that may aggravate GI symptoms.
Seniors with GI issues often need to take multiple medications, and it can be challenging to keep track of dosages and schedules. In-home caregivers can help seniors manage their medications, ensuring they are taken as prescribed and on time.
Exercise and Mobility Support
Certain exercises and activities can help seniors maintain healthy GI function. In-home caregivers can assist seniors with safe and appropriate exercises, as well as provide support with mobility, which can also promote healthy digestion.
Here at Christian Companions Houston, we understand the importance of providing compassionate and personalized care to seniors. If you or a loved one is in need of in-home caregiving services, don't hesitate to contact Christian Companions and we'll help create a plan that works for you. Our caring team is here to help you every step of the way.