Many older people who experience abdominal cramping, pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, or other unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms may be suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
IBS is a relatively common chronic disorder that affects the stomach and intestines and requires long-term management. In most cases, symptoms can be controlled by managing nutrition, lifestyle, and stress. Few people experience severe IBS symptoms that require medication and counseling to help manage discomfort associated with IBS.
What are the causes of IBS?
Although a definitive cause of IBS hasn’t yet been discovered, medical researchers believe that symptoms can be triggered by the following:
- Intestinal muscle contractions
- Overgrowth of gut bacteria
- Severe infection
- Changes to the microbes
- Allergies or intolerance to certain foods
Medical researchers also believe that stress can play a role in causing worse or more frequent attacks of IBS due to the link between the brain and the digestive system. When we feel stressed or anxious, our brain activates our sympathetic nervous system, which conserves energy for a “fight or flight” response and slows down the digestive process. Ongoing stress will trigger this response more often, which can cause chronic IBS.
Stress and IBS in older adults
Stress can affect people of any age but can be particularly risky for older adults. Many older people struggle due to illness, mobility issues, or a loss of independence. They may have been feeling anxiety over significant medical events, stressful life experiences, or needing help performing everyday personal care tasks, such as bathing, grooming, and dressing. They may even feel stress over the changes that come with aging itself.
IBS symptoms such as abdominal pain, gas, constipation, and diarrhea can all be signs of other illnesses, so an IBS diagnosis might take time. However, a few simple lifestyle changes can help minimize the effects of the condition and bring renewed confidence to your loved one.
How to help an older person cope with IBS
There is no cure for IBS, but a few simple lifestyle changes can help manage its symptoms:
Help manage their nutrition
What your loved one eats is central to helping control IBS flare-ups. Food such as wheat, dairy, beans, cabbage, and carbonated drinks are generally thought to cause digestive upset, especially if the person has an allergy or sensitivity to them.
Some better food choices to consider are:
- Meat: Lean meats (sirloin or top/bottom round steaks, pork, white meat chicken, and white meat turkey) and eggs
- Fish: Salmon, herring, black cod, anchovies, whitefish, sardines, rainbow trout, mackerel, and other fish high in omega-3s
- Fruits: Strawberries, bananas, and blueberries
- Vegetables: Carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, olives, potatoes, and turnips
- Dairy: Almond, soy, and lactose-free milk
- Grains: Quinoa, corn flour, oats, and gluten-free pasta
Their doctor might also recommend reducing caffeine, drinking more water, and increasing fibre intake. They might also suggest following a diet that’s low in FODMAP (fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols), which refers to short-chain carbohydrates that are harder to digest.
When making any dietary changes, be sure that your loved one introduces items a few at a time. This approach will allow them to identify foods that don’t agree with them and eliminate them from their diet.
Employ relaxation techniques
Introduce your loved one to relaxation techniques that can help lower the risk of IBS. Meditation, yoga, walking, and spending time outdoors are all excellent stress-busters that will benefit their overall well-being. Activities such as reading, doing puzzles, and chatting with friends can also bring enjoyment and relaxation.
Also, encourage them to get a full night’s sleep, so they feel relaxed and refreshed every morning.
Ask about gut-healing supplements
Talk to your loved one’s doctor about recommendations for all-natural supplements that aid gut health and improve digestion. Probiotics, peppermint oil, fiber supplements, and magnesium are all popular supplements that can bring relief to many people with IBS symptoms.
IBS can be painful and uncomfortable for your elderly loved one. However, your support and efforts to try to ease their symptoms will go a long way to helping them feel better.
CareHop can provide all the support you need too, reducing stress and ensuring your loved one gets all the care they deserve.
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CareHop specializes in providing quality eldercare services when you need a helping hand. Our goal is to bring peace of mind to families, reducing stress and minimizing its effect on your loved one’s health.
Our caregivers provide professional in-home nursing care, PSW services, and Alzheimer’s disease and dementia care that focuses on your loved one’s needs and helps them have a great day every day. We also offer in-home elder care services such as homemaking and meal preparation, personal care, activities, and casual companionship.
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