Many family caregivers may not recognize the symptoms of digestive issues in their aging relatives. Everyone gets a little upset stomach now and then, especially elderly adults who may be more sensitive to certain foods or may not produce enough saliva to properly digest meals. However, there are serious health issues associated with the digestive system that require a doctor’s diagnosis so that treatment can begin as soon as possible. One of the more common health issues is gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.
Watch for Symptoms of GERD in Seniors
Elderly adults are at a higher risk for developing GERD because their digestive system has aged and doesn’t run as efficiently as it once did. The muscles that control the esophagus and stomach may be weakened and stiff, making it harder to swallow food and keep it down. With GERD, the contents of the stomach, including food and acid, work their way back up into the esophagus, burning the soft tissues there. This causes symptoms of heartburn, nausea, sore throat, coughing, chest pain and indigestion.
If left untreated, GERD can become serious. Long-term effects of the disease include painful swallowing, deteriorating dental health, a corroded esophagus and even esophageal cancer. Family caregivers and home health care providers should listen closely when seniors complain about their throat and stomach issues to see if the symptoms match up with GERD. If so, it’s time for the doctor.
Improving Digestive Health in Seniors with GERD
As with most health issues, an early diagnosis from a doctor is the most effective way to deal with GERD and the uncomfortable symptoms it produces. A doctor will likely prescribe a medicine to help control stomach acid. However, the most effective way to minimize the effects of GERD is to make some serious lifestyle changes. Seniors who are dependent on family caregivers and senior care providers will need all the support they can get.
One of the most important things that aging adults with GERD can do is avoid trigger foods like onions, chocolate, spicy food, greasy food and alcohol. They should drink a lot of water and focus on a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. Regular activity can also help GERD symptoms stay under control. Family caregivers and home health care providers should also help the senior avoid lying flat throughout the day or night. A wedge pillow or other upper body support can keep stomach acid where it belongs.
Family caregivers and home health care providers who work with the aging adult on their GERD treatment plan will be happy to see that the combination of medicine and serious lifestyle changes can make all the difference in their comfort and health. Recognizing the symptoms of GERD’s digestive disorders in an aging adult is the first step forward in treating it.