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Managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome

An Important Topic

Let’s face it, when it comes to discussing what goes on in the bathroom, most of us opt to change the subject entirely. It’s something that we’ve been conditioned to feel uncomfortable about, especially when things aren’t as normal as they should be. But while gut health may not exactly be something to bring up at the next family get-together or cocktail party, it certainly deserves our utmost attention on a movement-by-movement basis. Frequent irregularity can indicate the presence of a bowel disorder – and chief among them, for aging adults, is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Many seniors are affected by IBS, and the increased stress that they face can make symptoms and the overall outcome quite serious, if not managed.

 

What Is IBS?

IBS is characterized by frequent discomfort from changes in bowel movements, which may include diarrhea and constipation, or an alternation between the two – typically over an extended period of time. Other symptoms include acid reflux, bloating, and difficulty swallowing. While these are the most common symptoms, IBS truly is different for everyone, and to date, the medical community isn’t entirely sure what the root cause of IBS is. However, there are a handful of factors that, when combined, appear to trigger IBS.

 

Sensitivity to certain foods or drinks is one of the primary factors; seniors with IBS may find that their digestive system no longer responds well to the fried and fatty foods or alcoholic drinks they enjoyed in their younger years. Genetics also seem to play a role, as IBS is more likely to occur in people who have a history of the condition. However, recent studies indicate that IBS may have more to do with stress and the way in which our gut talks with our brain.

5 million Canadians suffer from IBS with 120,000 Canadians developing IBS each year.

Stress as a Factor

Stress has long been associated with IBS, but only recently has there been scientific understanding of what the relationship may be. Over the last few years, studies on gut health have shown that in many ways, the gut seemingly represents a second brain because of its complex system of neurons. These neurons are linked to the brain in a way that essentially forms an axis – a two-way road where the brain influences the gut and vice versa. Feelings of stress will cause the bowels to act irregularly, which then causes additional stress – forming a vicious cycle.

 

The same is certainly true for seniors, but the effect can often be much worse. As we age, our bodies are not as well-equipped to deal with prolonged irregularity – and an IBS symptom such as diarrhea can ultimately lead to malnourishment if the right nutrients are not being absorbed. As mentioned above, stress is not the only factor to consider with IBS, but seniors should not underestimate the brain-gut relationship. Though stress management is an important step in IBS management, seniors can also control the disorder by incorporating specific lifestyle changes such as diet adjustment, exercise, probiotics, and certain medications (all with physician consultation and approval).

 

The symptoms of IBS are similar to those of colon cancer, diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and internal obstruction – which makes physician consultation all the more imperative for seniors. Thorough testing can help rule out digestive disorders which may be life-threatening.

 

Comfort Keepers® Can Help

No matter what, it’s important for seniors to understand that IBS isn’t a normal part of aging. By identifying the triggers and consulting a physician on what lifestyle choices to make, seniors can continue living healthy lives. The compassionate, professional caregiving team at Comfort Keepers® help promote positive wellbeing for seniors and can see that they follow diets as prescribed by a physician/dietician. We can also provide incidental transportation, mobility assistance, and light housekeeping – all with the goal of helping seniors maintain a safe, healthy, and independent lifestyle. Contact a local Comfort Keepers office today to learn more.

 

 

 

References:

IrritableBowelSyndrome.Net. “Do Stress and Anxiety Cause IBS?” Web. 2016.

WebMD. “IBS Triggers and How to Avoid Them.” Web. 2018.

SeniorHealth365. “Irritable Bowel Syndrome in the Elderly.” Web. 2018.

HealthLine. “The Dangers of Untreated IBS-C/CIC”

Canadian Digestive Health Foundation.  “Statistics”  Web. 2018.

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