Irritable Bowel Syndrome in the elderly

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

IBS symptoms can be similar to those of more serious conditions or diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease or colorectal cancer. Older adults should always question an IBS diagnosis and consider other steps to ensure there isn’t a more serious underlying cause.

Can You Get IBS Later On In Life?

Yes, it is possible to develop IBS later in life. While it is more commonly diagnosed in younger individuals, it can emerge at any age, including later in life.

The exact causes of IBS are not well understood. It is likely the result of a combination of factors, including genetics, diet, stress, and changes in gut bacteria. In some cases, people may have had mild or intermittent symptoms earlier in life that progress and become more noticeable or persistent as they age.

If you are experiencing IBS symptoms for the first time, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional. They can provide a proper diagnosis and recommend appropriate management and treatment options tailored to your specific needs.

What Causes IBS in the Elderly?

IBS is a complex and multifactorial condition, and the causes and triggers can vary from person to person. While the exact causes of IBS are not yet fully understood, several factors can contribute to the development and exacerbation of IBS symptoms in elderly people. These factors include:

  • Altered Gastrointestinal Motility: Age-related changes in the digestive system can lead to altered bowel motility. Some elderly individuals may experience slower transit times, which can result in constipation, while others may have faster transit times, leading to diarrhoea or urgency.
  • Dietary Habits: Poor dietary habits, inadequate fibre intake, and a lack of sufficient water intake can contribute to IBS symptoms. These factors can affect the consistency and frequency of bowel movements.
  • Stress and Anxiety:  Stress and anxiety can exacerbate IBS symptoms. The elderly may experience stress due to life changes, health concerns, or social isolation, all of which can trigger or worsen IBS symptoms.
  • Medications: Many elderly people take multiple medications for various health conditions. Some medications, such as certain pain relievers, antibiotics, or laxatives, can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria and lead to IBS-like symptoms.
  • Infections: Gastrointestinal infections, such as food poisoning, can trigger IBS symptoms in individuals of any age, including the elderly. 
  • Hormonal Changes: Hormonal fluctuations, particularly in postmenopausal women, can influence IBS symptoms. Hormones may affect gut motility and sensitivity.
  • Other Health Conditions: Certain medical conditions that become more common with age, such as diverticulosis or celiac disease, can mimic or exacerbate IBS symptoms.
  • Lifestyle Factors: Sedentary lifestyles and lack of physical activity can slow down digestion and contribute to constipation, a common symptom of IBS in elderly people.

Symptoms of IBS in the Elderly 

  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Altered bowel movements (constipation, diarrhoea, or both)
  • Bloating or distention of the abdomen
  • Increased gas (flatulence)
  • Urgency to have a bowel movement
  • Feeling of incomplete bowel evacuation
  • Mucus in stools
  • Changes in stool consistency (hard or loose)
  • Fatigue or feeling generally unwell

How Can IBS Affect the Elderly?

IBS has the potential to impact the life of anyone but it can have profound effects on the lives of our elderly family members. It’s not just a matter of discomfort; IBS can bring about many challenges that can deeply affect their well-being and independence.

One of its most noticeable impacts is how it can lead to a reduction in quality of life. The persistent abdominal pain, unpredictable bouts of diarrhoea, or distressing constipation can rob people of the ability to enjoy simple pleasures and engage in the daily activities they once cherished. 

IBS can also affect a person’s mobility. The fear of sudden bowel movements or the need for immediate access to a restroom can limit their willingness to leave their homes. Mental health is another area of concern. The chronic nature of IBS can bring about anxiety and depression, and the stress it generates can exacerbate the condition.

All of these concerns can eventually lead to a loss of independence and cause elderly people to become reliant on others. Many older people are fiercely independent, and having to rely on others for everyday tasks they once handled for themselves can negatively impact their self-esteem.

It is important to approach the issue of IBS with empathy and urgency and work collaboratively with healthcare professionals. Medical evaluation and treatment can help bring relief, improve symptoms and help preserve independence. 

Managing IBS

Although many people feel that IBS is an inevitable part of ageing, it is not necessarily so. While sensitivity within the digestive system may increase with age, there are ways to help reduce the overall risk or alleviate the symptoms. 

If your ageing loved one is currently experiencing IBS or is 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: Stress seems to be a major trigger for IBS. Recognising that stress exists and identifying where its source is the first step. From there, altering behaviour or activity can help in reducing stress as well as IBS symptoms. Look into meditation and yoga or seek counselling to aid in stress reduction.
  • Change Diet: Several foods can upset the digestive system, even without causing IBS. Milk products and foods high in fat commonly cause digestive issues. Keep track of the foods you eat daily and note which ones do or do not aggravate your digestive system. 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 well-being, 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 restore healthy bacteria to the digestive system. Fibre supplements may also be used to aid in digestive regulation. If constipation is the specific IBS symptom, talk to your doctor about medications and dietary recommendations.

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

How Prestige Nursing & Care 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 centre, we are ready to provide the support your loved ones need to live a happy, healthy, and independent life.

Contact Prestige Nursing & Care today to learn how our flexible hourly care can make a difference in your loved one’s life today.

We are here to take your call and will provide impartial support and guidance – contact our friendly care experts today to discuss your care needs.

0808 239 1525


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