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Aging with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome, often abbreviated as IBS, is a common disorder that can cause everything from chronic abdominal pain and bloating to diarrhea and constipation.

Understanding Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome, often abbreviated as IBS, is a common disorder that can cause everything from chronic abdominal pain and bloating to diarrhea and constipation. IBS is considered a functional digestion disorder, which means that symptoms are often brought on by changes in the digestive system rather than by a certain disease.

IBS is a commonly diagnosed disorder, and although it does not generally start until after the age of 50, there is no indication that incidence of IBS is necessarily higher in older adults (those 65 years of age or older). However, the issue is that some IBS symptoms can be similar to those of more serious conditions or diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease or colorectal cancer. Thus, seniors should always question an IBS diagnosis and consider other steps to ensure there isn’t something more serious at play.

Aging with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

As mentioned, IBS can manifest itself in a number of ways. If there is a notable frequency of bowel movements with loose or watery stool, the specific type of IBS is categorized as diarrhea-predominant IBS. If there is difficulty in bowel movements and decreased frequency, it is categorized as constipation-predominant IBS.

What Can Cause IBS?

Most medical professionals suggest there is no identifiable root cause for IBS, however, it is clear that it is more likely to be brought on by changes and/or disturbances with motility and digestion. For instance, if one recently had an infection within the intestines (prior to IBS symptoms), IBS has been known to follow promptly. Genetics also appear to be a considerable factor, as most with a family history of IBS are more likely to be diagnosed with the condition.

Other factors that can influence the onset of IBS include food allergies or intolerance (specifically to foods such as broccoli, milk, and carbonated beverages) and bacterial overgrowth in the intestines. Additionally, psychological stress appears to be one of the most significant factors, especially in seniors.

Managing IBS

Although seniors may feel that IBS is an inevitable part of aging, the opposite is actually true. While sensitivity of the nerves within the digestive system may increase with age, there are ways to help reduce the overall risk or alleviate the symptoms. If your aging loved ones are currently faced with IBS or are looking for ways to prevent it, have them follow the tips below. Before incorporating any of the following tips into his or her lifestyle, be sure your loved one has a detailed discussion with a physician and/or dietician.

  • Reduce Stress: As stated, psychological stress seems to be a major trigger for IBS. Recognizing that stress exists and identifying where it’s coming from is the first step. From there, altering behavior or activity can help in reducing stress as well as IBS symptoms. Many may also choose to practice meditation and yoga, or seek counseling to aid in stress reduction.
  • Change Diet: There are several foods that can upset the digestive system, even without causing IBS. However, the ones that you may want to reduce the consumption of include: milk products, foods high in fat, and those that tend to produce gas. Keep track of the foods you eat on a daily basis and note which ones do or do not aggravate your digestive system. Again, your dietary management will depend solely upon the type of IBS symptoms you’re experiencing.
  • Exercise: Staying consistently active tends to help improve overall physical and emotional wellbeing, but it’s also helpful in treating symptoms of IBS. In addition to regulating the digestive system, exercise can help provide a chance to relieve stress in a healthy, positive way. With exercise, you should – as always – consult a physician or doctor before beginning a daily routine, but try to incorporate at least 30 minutes of daily activity.
  • Supplements and Medication: You may want to introduce a probiotic dietary supplement into your diet, to help in restoring healthy bacteria into the digestive system. Fiber supplements may also be used to aid in digestive regulation. If constipation is the specific IBS symptom, talk to your doctor about medications, such as stool softeners or laxatives.

It’s important to remember that irritable bowel syndrome is common, and although its symptoms are unique to the individual diagnosed, there are ways to live with it. Let your senior loved one know that, by identifying the triggers, he or she can manage IBS and get back to living comfortably.

Comfort Keepers® Can Help

Our compassionate, professional, in-home caregivers can help promote a healthy, positive lifestyle, conducive to managing IBS. From healthy meal preparation to transportation to a gym or local senior center, we are ready to help provide what he or she needs to live a happy, healthy, and independent life. Ask your local Comfort Keepers office today about how their services can make a difference in your loved one’s life today.

EverydayHealth. “Living Well While Aging with IBS: Tips for Managing Symptoms” by Vanessa Caceres. Web. 2017.
SeniorHealth365. “Irritable Bowel Syndrome in the Elderly.” Web. 2017.
ElderIssues. “Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Elders.” Web. 2017.

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