If your elderly loved one has just been diagnosed with celiac disease by their doctor, you may be feeling overwhelmed and looking for information. The more you and your loved one learn about what celiac disease is, what causes it and the recommended treatments, you will be on your way to helping restore them to better health and wellness.
Q: What is celiac disease?
A: Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition where the body has a strong reaction to gluten. Gluten is a protein found in some grains, like wheat, graham, malt, rye, spelt and barley.
Q: Can seniors get celiac disease even if they’ve never had problems in the past?
A: While celiac disease is usually thought of as a childhood disease, recent studies show that seniors can indeed develop celiac disease for the first time in their later years. More seniors are being diagnosed with celiac disease after the age of 65, but the condition is often missed or misdiagnosed because of lack of information and unfamiliarity with the development in the elderly.
Q: How is the body affected when someone eats gluten?
A: The immune system reacts to the gluten aggressively, triggering an attack on the small intestine. The small intestine is where nutrients are absorbed into the body and with repeated attacks, the lining becomes damaged. This causes gastrointestinal symptoms and impedes the body from absorbing nutrients properly.
Q: What are some symptoms of celiac disease in seniors?
A: The classic symptoms of celiac disease are constipation, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, flatulence and bloating. However, studies show that these can be relatively mild in seniors. Other symptoms include weight loss, mouth sores, headaches, fatigue and joint pain. It’s easy to see that many symptoms in seniors look like other age-related conditions, which is why it is often hard to diagnose celiac disease in the elderly.
Q: How is celiac disease diagnosed in the elderly?
A: A physician can conduct two blood tests to officially diagnose celiac disease in seniors. The first is serology testing, where they look for antibodies in the blood. The second is a genetic test that looks for certain antigens. The results, plus an endoscopy to look at the wall of the small intestine, are enough to diagnose celiac disease.
Q: What is the treatment for celiac disease?
A: Unfortunately, there is no cure for celiac disease. However, when seniors stick to a gluten-free diet, the symptoms and the damage to the body can be eliminated. The strict diet means that the senior doesn’t eat anything with gluten in it, like bread, beer, cake, pasta, and similar foods. Gluten is also found in some non-traditional things like salad dressing, vitamins, and even lipstick. Seniors, family caregivers and home care aides must read labels carefully to detect gluten.
Q: How long will it take for my loved one to feel better?
A: With the elimination of gluten in the diet, it will take several weeks for the inflammation of the small intestine to subside. However, with a long-term commitment to a gluten-free diet, seniors can enjoy good health and be symptom-free when it comes to managing their celiac disease.
If you or an aging loved one are considering caregivers in DeWitt, MI, please contact the caring staff at Seniors Helping Seniors of Lansing. Call today: 517-332-9953.