The elderly are more prone to developing health issues than younger generations, but one condition in particular is rarely associated with age—celiac disease. Celiac disease is the autoimmune reaction to gluten, found in wheat and some other grains. Most medical research into celiac disease has focused on children, because that is when it typically manifests. However, a growing number of studies are revealing that celiac disease can appear in seniors as well. Even if they have not been affected by eating gluten for their whole lives, it is possible for aging loved ones to suddenly develop celiac disease.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune condition that makes the body attack the small intestine whenever a person eats gluten. Gluten, a protein present in certain grains like barley and wheat, is seen as an enemy to the body, and it reacts aggressively. The attack affects the inside of the small intestine, with small projections called villi that absorb nutrients from food for the body. When these are damaged, it can trigger gastrointestinal distress, malnutrition and other health issues.
What are the Symptoms of Celiac Disease?
Gastrointestinal issues are the top symptoms of celiac disease, like stomach cramps, gas, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation. Other symptoms include skin rashes, joint pain, heartburn, headaches, mouth sores, weakened dental enamel and tingling in the extremities. Symptoms that cannot be observed easily but are often discovered by doctors include anemia, malnutrition, softening of the bones, osteoporosis and hypothyroidism.
Researchers are finding that it is often more difficult to diagnose seniors with celiac disease because some of the more common symptoms with the bowels can be quite mild when compared with other age groups. Also, many family members, family caregivers, elder care aides and doctors may simply attribute the symptoms to other age-related conditions. Usually, when doctors start to put together comprehensive picture of the elderly person’s health, based on feedback and observations from caregivers, they can hone in on a diagnosis.
How is Celiac Disease Treated in the Elderly?
There is no cure for celiac disease, so the only way to treat it is to begin a gluten free diet. Gluten is found primarily in wheat, barley and rye, so any food that contains these ingredients is off limits. This includes bread, beer, cookies, cake, pasta and more. The hardest part is identifying food that contains gluten but isn’t obvious. Gluten can show up in everything from chicken broth and salad dressing to nutritional supplements and even cosmetics like lipstick. There are other grains without gluten that can be used as substitutes, like buckwheat, rice, sorghum, millet, quinoa and tapioca.
How Can Family Caregivers Support Seniors With Celiac Disease?
Because a revised diet is the key to eliminating the awful symptoms of celiac disease, family caregivers need to work closely with their aging loved one, elder care aides, family members and others involved in elderly care to be aware of what food is allowed and what will trigger a setback. When seniors are able to avoid food with gluten in it, they’ll feel much better and their body will start to respond positively once again.
If you or an aging loved one are considering elder care in Alexandria, VA, contact the caring staff at Access Home Care Inc. Proudly Serving Northern Virginia and Surroundings for over 12 years. Call Us: (703) 765-9350
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