GERIATRIC HEALTH: DIGESTIVE TROUBLES

drkmh GERIATRIC HEALTH: DIGESTIVE TROUBLES

 

Diet is the most important part of aiding digestion. If you notice that your body is processing food differently as you grow older, it is time to listen to its changing needs.

One often hears people say, “Age is just a number!” That may be so, and is a very positive way to take on aging. Growing old is a natural process. How you grow old is to a large extent up to you. Leading a healthy lifestyle and understanding bodily needs/ changes with the passing years helps stay physically and mentally fit. The body ages and its various parts start functioning accordingly. One must stay alert to these changes and make necessary lifestyle changes to stay healthy and happy. One of the most common ‘problem areas’ as you grow old is your tummy and we don’t mean weight issues. It’s DIGESTION

 

COMMON AGE-RELATED DIGESTIVE ISSUES

 

  • GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). This condition occurs when the upper part of the digestive tract is not functioning to its fullest and allows the flow of stomach acids into the esophagus. Acid Reflux is the prime symptom. Other symptoms include heartburn, regurgitation, sore throat and cough. Dietary and lifestyle changes can help keep this condition under check. Certain foods trigger the condition more than others. To begin with one must understand what these foods are and avoid them as much as possible. Most importantly avoid lying down soon after a meal. Maintaining a healthy body weight, reduced use of tobacco smoking and lesser alcohol consumption will also help manage GERD better as you age.
  • Dysphagia. This refers to difficulty in swallowing which is another common complaint amongst the elderly. This could be due to lesser saliva production, weakened nerves and muscles in the mouth and throat or reduced strength of the upper esophageal sphincter. These are all related to aging and cannot be totally avoided. Maintaining good oral health, drinking adequate amounts of water and slower deliberate chewing can help ease the problem.
  • Diarrhea. When your digestive tract pushes food out too fast, the intestine does not get enough time to absorb fluids which causes loose stools. This could be a result of certain medications or medical conditions such as lactose intolerance, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome. This condition can be managed using medication depending on the cause and through eating right.
  • Constipation. As one ages the digestive tract ages too – this means often it takes longer for the digestive tract to move food through the body. The many muscles involved slow down, which causes food to move more slowly through the colon – hence more water is absorbed from the fecal matter and this leads to constipation. Inactivity, reduced fluid intake, a low-fibre diet and certain medications can cause constipation. Getting adequate exercise into the daily routine, combined with a diet that has high fibre foods and drinking enough water can help avoid constipation. If these lifestyle changes do not help, medication will.
  • Diverticular Disease. This occurs when small pouches in the lining of the colon bulge out along the walls of the intestines. Diverticular Disease is essentially a condition seen only in the elderly (60 years and above). These out-pouchings called diverticular are typically 0.5-1 cm in diameter and in rare cases grow larger. When the diverticular are not inflamed the condition is called Diverticulosis. Moderate exercise, more fluids and adequate fibre intake will help manage this condition. When the diverticular get inflamed to cause cramping, diarrhea and bowel disorders it is called Diverticulitis. A low-fibre, liquid diet is recommended for Diverticulitis along with medication.
  • Polyps and Colorectal Cancer. After the age of 50, there are more chances of developing polyps in the colon. Regular colonoscopy (once every ten years) can help the doctor remove any polyps before they develop and begin to cause problems. Polyps can be benign or cancerous and there is no known reason why they develop in the first place – it could be related to dietery intake or genetics. It is best to have them removed. If you have a family history of colon cancer, it’s best to consult with your doctor about cancer screening.

 

HOW TO KEEP A HEALTHY DIGESTIVE TRACT

 

1. Eat Healthy. Diet is the most important part of aiding digestion. If you notice that your body is processing food differently as you grow older, it is time to listen to its changing needs.

 

  • Include more fibrous food
  • Drink enough water – stay hydrated
  • Reduce the amount of salt in your food
  • Get more protein
  • Avoid food that causes heart-burn or acid reflux (usually oily, fatty food)

 

2. Stay Active. Exercise is very important at any age

 

  • Getting in at least 2 hours of workout in a week is great to keep the mind and body fit.
  • Including light strength training twice a week, is sure to help stay healthy.
  • Don’t push your limits. Check with your doctor if you notice any changes.

 

3. Do not self-medicate. After a certain age over the counter drugs can produced undesirable side-effects such as diarrhea, constipation and general abdominal discomfort. If you are already taking medications for other medical conditions, it is best to consult with your doctor before taking an additional drug

 

4. Weight Management. Losing too much weight too soon is just as bad as putting on too much weight. An active lifestyle will help keep you fit. However, if you notice that you are losing weight too fast, check with your doctor for any underlying health conditions. Maintaining a suitable body weight can help prevent conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

 

Aging gracefully depends on how well the individual is physically and mentally equipped to deal with ailments that set in as the body ages. Accepting aging as a natural process and staying in tune with the changes it causes, helps understand what your body needs. Regular health screenings will help discover problems at their nascent stages, enabling timely treatment and resolution..

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