Caring for Your Senior Parent: Overview of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

If you are one of the millions of adults in the United States participating on some level in assisting your senior mother or father daily, you may find yourself dealing with medical and healthcare issues of different types. For example, your senior parent may be afflicted with what is known as inflammatory bowel disease. In this article, we provide you with some basic information about this particular medical condition. We begin this discussion by presenting five basic facts about inflammatory bowel disease, also known as IBD.

Overview of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Seniors

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella term for conditions that cause chronic inflammation in the intestines. It affects over 1 million seniors aged 55 and older in the United States. IBD can be debilitating, as it causes persistent intestinal symptoms like abdominal cramping and pain, bloody stools, fatigue, and malnutrition.

The most common types of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both can cause inflammation anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract but usually affect different parts. Crohn’s disease often affects the entire GI tract from mouth to anus, while ulcerative colitis typically only affects the large intestine or colon. While there’s no known cure for either condition, treatments are available to help sufferers manage their symptoms and reduce inflammation flare-ups.

Five Basic Facts About Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Understanding these five essential or basic facts associated with IBD will make you better versed in assisting your mother or father as needed.

  1. Inflammatory bowel disease is a condition that causes chronic inflammation and swelling of the digestive tract, which can lead to a range of uncomfortable symptoms in seniors. Common forms of IBD include ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, which have similar characteristics but different areas of the gastrointestinal or GI tract they affect. Seniors with IBD may often experience the following:
     Abdominal cramps
     Diarrhea
     Fatigue
     Weight loss
     Anemia
     And other issues
  2. While there is no known cause for IBD in seniors, some factors, such as diet and lifestyle choices, can contribute to its onset or increase its severity. A diet low in fiber and high in processed foods can make symptoms worse. However, eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and grains can help reduce flare-ups of IBD. In addition to dietary changes, regular exercise helps promote improved digestion and better overall health for senior IBD sufferers.
  3. Stress has also been linked to IBD flare-ups. Therefore, seniors must practice stress management techniques, including yoga or meditation, if flare-ups occur during increased stress levels. Additionally, many medications can help with IBD symptoms, such as antidiarrheal drugs or steroids. Keep in mind that a doctor should prescribe these following a comprehensive evaluation.
  4. Although there currently is no cure for IBD in seniors, the outlook is positive with proper management techniques. Many individuals who follow their doctor’s advice live healthy normal lives despite having the condition. Seniors with IBD need to remain proactive about managing their condition by eating healthy food, exercising regularly, and reducing stress whenever possible.
  5. Ultimately, senior citizens need to talk openly about their experiences related to IBD. By doing so, they can receive appropriate support from family and friends who may not understand the complexities associated with this condition. If left untreated or unmanaged properly, senior citizens may suffer from malnutrition due to a lack of nutrient absorption or dehydration caused by symptoms of IBD flare-ups like diarrhea. With proper medical care and self-care practices, many seniors can enjoy a fulfilling life despite having inflammatory bowel disease.

Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Seniors with inflammatory bowel disease may experience various but more commonplace symptoms. It is helpful to a senior who may suffer from IBD to have people in their lives who are aware of these signs and symptoms. The seven most frequently occurring symptoms of IBD are:

  • Abdominal cramping and pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Fever
  1. Abdominal cramping and pain: Seniors with IBD often experience acute or chronic abdominal pain accompanied by cramping or spasms due to inflammation in the intestines. Pain can vary depending on how severe the inflammation is.
  2. Diarrhea: Flareups of IBD can cause loose stools that may become bloody if there is enough swelling in the linings of the gut to create open sores called ulcers. Chronic diarrhea is also a symptom associated with IBD in some cases.
  3. Fatigue: Fatigue is a common symptom among seniors with IBD. This can result from malabsorption caused by an inflamed small intestine which affects nutrient absorption. It can also result from anemia caused by low iron levels due to chronic blood loss from bleeding ulcers or rectal bleeding associated with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
  4. Unexplained weight loss: Although unintentional weight loss can be explained by other medical conditions such as diabetes or cancer, seniors who have unexplained weight loss should be checked for possible IBD cases. Unexplained weight loss can be due to malabsorption caused by an inflamed small intestine which inhibits nutrient absorption leading to decreased caloric intake and resulting in weight loss over time if left untreated.
  5. Poor appetite: Poor appetite is another sign seniors should look out for if they suspect they may have IBD. This also occurs as a result of malabsorption preventing proper digestion. This limits nutrient absorption needed for energy production. It can ultimately result in a poor appetite or lessened food cravings. It can also cause decreased energy levels throughout the day if left untreated over time.
  6. Rectal bleeding: Rectal bleeding can be indicative of IBD. This occurs due to inflammation causing irritation within the linings of the large intestine. The irritation results in sores forming, commonly called ulcers, which can lead to rectal or anal bleeding. A passing stool can also become a painful experience as a consequence.
  7. Fever: An increase in body temperature above the normal range can indicate the presence of infection within the body associated with some immune system imbalance. This state of affairs can be associated with inflammatory bowel disease in some seniors.

In addition to these seven most common symptoms, some people with IBD may also experience the following:

  • Joint pains
  • Skin rashes (like psoriasis or pyoderma gangrenosum, a deep tissue infection)

Medication attention should be sought if your senior parent or other older loved one has any combination of these symptoms. A healthcare provider, a primary care physician, can develop a meaningful plan to control and manage inflammatory bowel disease for a senior.

Assisted Living and People With Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Caring for a loved one with inflammatory bowel disease or IBD can pose a unique set of challenges. A notable percentage of senior women and men with IBD are residents of assisted living communities. Therefore, as a general rule, these types of senior living centers have staff experienced in assisting residents with IBD.

Assisted living facilities are designed to offer support while allowing residents to live as independently as possible. Several key considerations must be considered when caring for someone with IBD in these settings.

At the top of the list is establishing a routine for meals and medication that works for your loved one’s needs. Many assisted living facilities have established meal times but can provide modifications to meet the unique needs of a particular resident. In addition to adjusting meal times for a specific resident, special dietary plans can also be developed by an assisted living community for a resident with IBD.

It’s also important that the staff members at an assisted living facility understand how IBD affects residents so they can provide appropriate support when needed. Ask about any special training they may have had in managing conditions like IBD. This will let you feel confident that your loved one will receive proper care. If additional consultation is necessary from outside healthcare providers, such as gastroenterologists or dieticians, you should discuss this with facility staff so they know whom to contact if needed.

Another key point is ensuring good hygiene standards are maintained at all times to reduce the risk of infections. Infections can complicate symptoms further or lead to flare-ups.

Finally, it is essential to remember your role as a caregiver or supportive family member, even when someone is living in an assisted living setting. This typically includes staying involved as much as possible in your senior parent’s life. Ultimately, understanding how best to manage IBD within an assisted living environment will help ensure your loved one receives quality care tailored to their needs.