How to Recognize Celiac Disease in Elderly Loved Ones

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Many elderly people are surprised when they receive a diagnosis of celiac disease after a checkup to see why they are experiencing unusual health problems. After all, celiac disease is usually diagnosed in childhood, not in the elderly population. This autoimmune condition triggers the body to have a violent response to eating gluten, a protein found in many different kinds of grains. Because more and more seniors are being diagnosed with celiac disease after the age of 50, it’s important that they and their family caregivers know more about how to recognize the symptoms for an earlier diagnosis.

Celiac Disease and Seniors

It was once thought that seniors couldn’t develop celiac disease in their later years, but studies are now showing that more than 1/3 of new patients that are diagnosed with celiac disease are over age 65. Even if the elderly people have spent their whole lives with no reaction to gluten until now, it’s still possible for them to develop celiac disease. When it occurs for the first time in an aging loved one, it is often overlooked as some other kind of health issue. The elderly person, their family members, home care workers and close friends may even note they symptoms but not make the connection that it could be as a result of celiac disease.

Here are more details about the symptoms of celiac disease in elderly loved ones so that everyone involved in elderly care is more educated on the condition.

  • Gastrointestinal distress after meals, including nausea, bloating, gas pain, diarrhea, constipation and vomiting.
  • Headaches, fatigue and low energy
  • Tingling in the extremities and trouble with balance
  • Itchy skin rash known as dermatitis herpetiformis
  • Mouth ulcers and weakened tooth enamel
  • Weight loss and thinning hair from malnutrition
  • Heartburn, acid reflux and sore throats
  • Joint pain in the extremities

All these symptoms are just the observable ones that family caregivers and home care assistants should be on the lookout for. Other symptoms won’t be discovered without a visit to the elderly person’s doctor. These symptoms include:

  • Anemia, which is a result of low iron and other nutrients in the blood
  • Reduced spleen function known as hyposplenism
  • Steatorrhea, which is the presence of fat in the feces
  • Autoimmune thyroid disorders
  • Malnutrition
  • Loss of bone density, like osteoporosis
  • Neurological issues such as seizures and neuropathy
  • Cancer of the bowels or intestines

It’s easy to see that celiac disease in the elderly is a serious health issue. It’s extremely important for those that are close to aging loved ones to pay attention to the clues that may lead to an
understanding about an earlier diagnosis. With celiac disease, the longer it goes untreated, the bigger impact it has on health and wellness.

Treating celiac disease in elderly loved ones is also a challenge. While there is no cure for it, a proper diet can minimize or eliminate all the symptoms. Adhering to a gluten-free diet is hard for anyone, but an elderly person that depends of family members, home care aides and others to help with shopping and meal prep is particularly tough. With proper communication and a strict diet plan in place, elderly loved ones can quickly become restored to good health and manage their celiac disease in the best possible way.


If you or an aging loved one are considering home care in Middleburg, VA, please contact the caring staff at Assisting Hands today. (703) 982-0050.