The digestive system is a large and complex system in our bodies. For adults, the actual system of organs that handle digestive functions can be around 30 feet long if you were to spread it out in a linear fashion. That's a lot of body tissue and organs, which means there's plenty of room for something to go wrong—one reason digestive complaints are a very common issue among people of all ages.
But as you grow older, the chances of something going wrong with the digestive functions in your body increase. If you've reached the age of retirement and suddenly found you can't eat some of your favorite foods without a bit of stomach discomfort, for example, you're not at all alone. And many people discover that they're dealing with new digestive conditions in later years. Find out more about common digestive woes for seniors and get some tips for coping with them below.
Digestive issues and conditions can range from the mild and inconvenient to the serious and potentially dangerous. If you're experiencing any digestive symptoms that are odd for you, it's important to talk to your medical provider so they can rule out or diagnose conditions and prescribe treatment to help manage the issue.
Here are some digestive issues seniors might deal with.
• Dysphagia. This is a swallowing disorder that makes it harder to swallow food when you're eating. Some factors that can lead to this disorder include the fact that your body may reduce the amount of saliva it generates as you age and your overall digestive muscles (such as those in your esophagus) can weaken over time. Nerve damage and potentially reduced cognitive function that is necessary to manage the overall process of swallowing can also contribute. The overall effect is that food doesn't go down as easily as it used to.
• Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. This disorder involves improper functioning of the stomach and esophagus as well as the connection between the two. The result is that food and acid in your stomach can flow back up and into the esophagus, creating symptoms of acid reflux, heartburn, regurgitation, heart pain and potential bad breath.
• Functional dyspepsia. This is a fairly common disorder of the digestive system that can cause bloating, indigestion, nausea and abdominal pain. Causes might include problems with how much acid is in the digestive system, inflammation or reactions to certain medications.
• Diverticulitis. This condition occurs when you have sacs in your colon that are inflamed. It can cause serious abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating and fever among other symptoms. It's a serious condition that can be treated but not always cured. However, medical professionals can usually help you manage the condition to minimize flare ups.
• Colorectal cancer. This is cancer of the colorectal system. It can be life-threatening, but this is one of the forms of cancer with a high rate of positive treatment outcomes in people who catch it early.
Digestive issues can be a real downer for seniors. Whether you really just wanted to retire and relax around your home or you're looking forward to an active lifestyle in the years to come, digestive conditions can get in the way of your plans. Here are some tips for mitigating or managing common digestive woes.
• Attend to dental health. The state of your teeth greatly impacts what you eat and how well you chew it. That, in turn, can impact your stomach and other digestive organs. See your dentist or ensure that your dentures fit well so you can chew your food appropriately and eat a wide range of healthy foods.
• Address your symptoms with diet. Talk to your medical provider so you know what foods you may need to increase or avoid. Sometimes, simply adding fiber to your diet and removing some added sugars and simple carbs can do wonders for the gut. And if you're a resident at the Park Regency assisted living community in Loveland, CO, you can let staff know what your diet needs are and work with them to ensure you're meeting them. You can even take advantage of delicious meals and snacks you don't have to prepare!
• Follow good medication protocol. Take medications as prescribed and don't overdo over-the-counter meds such as ibuprofen or aspirin. These can impact your digestive system, so talk to your doctor if you're having to take a lot of these meds to deal with other symptoms, such as pain.
• Get screened. See your medical provider at least once a year for a checkup and follow up with recommended screenings to increase the chance that they catch any potential issues as early as possible. It's often the case that problems can be more easily treated when they're caught in the early stages.