Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that triggers a reaction in the body when wheat gluten is ingested. While the condition has been well-studied in children, there has been little research conducted on seniors with celiac disease. Surprisingly, it is possible for the elderly to develop celiac disease in their golden years, even if they have gone their whole lives with no intolerance. Knowing that CD is a possibility for seniors to get has helped many family caregivers work with doctors to diagnose it in their aging loved ones.
Recognizing the symptoms of celiac disease in seniors is more difficult than in younger populations because the typical red flags seem to present in a more mild form in the elderly. While children may suffer from severe abdominal pain, gas and bloating, seniors experience lighter gastrointestinal symptoms on average. Research shows that the symptoms of CD in seniors are often misunderstood, leading to misdiagnosis.
Here are 5 symptoms of celiac disease that family caregivers, family members and senior care aides should be on the lookout for.
1. Gastrointestinal Distress
Bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation and stomach cramps are the most common symptoms of celiac disease. However, in many seniors, these effects are not very prominent, which causes the family caregiver, senior care aide and even the elderly person to assume nothing is seriously wrong and it’s just a typical upset stomach recurrence. If caregivers note gastrointestinal distress along with other symptoms, it could clue them in to looking further at the possibility of CD.
2. Weight Loss and Malnutrition
While it’s normal for elderly loved ones to experience a reduction in appetite and the number of calories consumed, significant weight loss is a clear warning sign that something is amiss. Celiac disease targets the small intestine, which is the organ responsible for absorbing nutrients into the body. When that process is disrupted by CD, it can result in malnourished seniors and an increase in health problems and difficulty maintaining a healthy weight.
3. Chameleon Symptoms
Older adults often have atypical symptoms that people don’t normally associate with celiac disease. These symptoms often look like something else, from simple age-related issues to those that look like other diseases like arthritis or acid reflux. Atypical symptoms for older adults with CD include skin rashes, mouth ulcers, headaches, fatigue, tingling in feet and hands, joint pain and heartburn.
4. Diagnosis of Anemia
While anemia can only be diagnosed by a doctor, family caregivers may be able to help them put the pieces together. Anemia is when the body experiences a deficiency in iron and other micronutrients. Studies show that up to 80 percent of seniors with celiac disease also have anemia, so it’s a good warning sign for family caregivers. If they know their aging loved one is exhibiting other celiac disease symptoms, plus a recent anemia diagnosis, they can make inquiries about further investigations into the possibility of CD.
5. Other Autoimmune Issues
The likelihood of an elderly person contracting another autoimmune disease along with celiac disease is high. Autoimmune thyroid disorders are the most common, but there are many other conditions that often manifest in seniors with CD. Again, family caregivers can help elderly loved ones with a recent diagnosis of one condition to explore the possibility of celiac disease if other symptoms are present.
The staff at Home Care Matters is available to talk with you and your family about all of your needs. Home Care Matters is a home care agency providing quality and affordable senior care in Oakwood, GA and the surrounding areas. Call (678) 828-2195 for more information.
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