Ageing increases the risk of developing digestive disorders. Of course, these health problems can occur at any age. But every year, almost 4 out of 10 elderly people suffer from it. Here is an overview of the most common diseases and disorders related to the digestive tract in old age. Learn why they happen and how to maintain good digestive health over the years.
What are the main digestive disorders in the elderly?
As you age, many bodily functions slow down, including those of your digestive system. The muscles of the digestive system become weaker and more rigid, and therefore less efficient. Your tissues are also more likely to be damaged: new cells do not form as quickly as before.
The most common digestive disorders in the elderly can include:
Constipation is a common digestive disorder in seniors. Our digestive tract moves food through the body through a series of muscle contractions. With age, this process can slow down. In this case, the colon absorbs more water, which can lead to digestive disorders, including constipation.
reduced stool frequency,
difficult and painful defecation,
Causes of Constipation:
insufficient consumption of fibre,
lack of sports,
Intestinal polyps and colon (colorectal) cancer
After age 50, the risk of developing polyps (abnormal growths of protruding tissue) in the colon increases .
Polyps can be benign, but also become cancerous (malignant form).
Cause of polyps : The cause is not known, but it is accepted that diet is a risk factor, often associated with a genetic cause. You can have polyps and not know it: they usually have no symptoms. This is why colonoscopy screening is recommended for anyone over the age of 50. During this procedure, the polyps can be removed before they turn cancerous. People with a family history of colon cancer or other risk factors may benefit from getting screened earlier.
Colon cancer can develop up to ten years after a polyp forms . Hence the need to perform colonoscopies, especially if blood is discovered in the stool, after a Hemoccult test .People at risk of developing colon cancer:
patients with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis,
individuals with a family history of colon cancer,
patient who has had breast cancer or colon polyps.
Symptoms to watch out for:
abnormal weight loss,
need to have a bowel movement at night,
persistent abdominal pain for people over 50,
unusual constipation or diarrhoea.
Diverticulosis is a relatively common digestive disorder in the elderly (more than half of seniors aged 60 and over, and two-thirds from 85 years old). It occurs when the small pouches lining the colon (mucosal evaginations) swell at more fragile points along the intestinal wall (especially in the sigmoid colon, i.e. the left part of the colon where there is hypertension).
Some people show no signs when this digestive disorder occurs, while others may experience the following symptoms:
Diverticulosis usually does not require treatment, except when the diverticula are inflamed (diverticulitis). Treatment for this digestive disorder will then include: painkillers, antibiotics and diet changes.
Disorders of the oesophagus
The oesophagus is the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. As with the colon, the functioning of the oesophagus can slow down with age, causing food to move more slowly. The elderly person will then have difficulty in digesting food and liquids.
Possible causes of esophageal disorders and swallowing difficulties:
stroke,Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Although gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can occur at any age, it is more common in older people.
The person with GERD suffers from a buildup of stomach acid in the oesophagus. This then causes the following gastric disorders:
regurgitation of food or acid,
It is therefore important to try to discover the foods that promote GERD to eliminate them from your diet. The most common are:
inflammation of the intestines
Intestinal inflammation is common in the elderly. There are two types :
acute inflammation of the intestines : temporary and sudden,
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) : This chronic inflammatory condition affects the bowel and includes two main subtypes, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. 10-30% of patients with inflammatory bowel disease are over 60 years old.The elderly are also more vulnerable to food poisoning.
How to maintain your digestive health as you age?
Fortunately, dysfunctions of the digestive system are not inevitable in old age. As with many health issues, prevention is the best way to maintain good digestion.
Check your medications :
Medication use should be monitored to avoid adverse effects on the digestive system. Consult your doctor to try to find out if your medications are possibly responsible for digestive disorders. If you take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain relief, check with your doctor to find the lowest effective dosage for you, and remember to take them with food. These drugs notably increase the risk of stomach ulcers. Also, make sure you don’t continue with treatments that are no longer needed. Beware of drug interactions, especially with non-prescription drugs, of which the attending physician may not be aware when prescribing treatment for you.
Stay active : practising a sports activity (aerobic of moderate to high intensity, to be precise…), at least two and a half hours per week, at the rate of at least 10 min per session, helps prevent many digestive disorders, or others. Sport has a beneficial effect, especially