major functions of this system are the processing of food and the
absorption of nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and water.
of the large functional reserve capacity of most of the
gastrointestinal (GI) tract, aging has relatively little effect on GI
functioning. The digestive system is made up of the mouth, teeth,
tongue, salivary glands, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver,
gallbladder, large intestine, and small intestine. Essentially, normal
digestion and absorption occur in the elderly; however, there are many
changes in the digestive system that parallel the age-related changes
seen in the other systems. Like other systems, the rate of new cell
growth declines and tissues become more susceptible to damage.
Due to a
decrease in smooth muscle tone along a majority of the aging GI tract,
food moves through the system more slowly as the contractions necessary
for the movement and breakdown of food become weaker. Constipation
becomes a problem along with hemorrhoids. Weakening of the cardiac
sphincter, a muscle that regulates the flow of food from the esophagus
into the stomach, can lead to esophageal reflux which causes
toxins, such as alcohol and chemicals, are absorbed by the digestive
tract and transported to the liver for processing or storage, the liver
cells are not immune to the effects of these compounds. Chronic
exposure leads to damage and disease in the liver and many other organs.
cancer rates increase, especially in the colon and stomach. Plus,
changes in other systems have direct and indirect effects on the
digestive system. For example, the reduction in bone mass and calcium
content in the skeleton is associated with erosion of the tooth sockets
and tooth loss.
so fun fact:
drugs, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs),
can cause esophageal injury. The elderly are at high risk of
pill-induced esophagitis and its complications, particularly when
esophageal transit is delayed. Drugs should be swallowed in an upright
position and followed by a good drink.
so fun fact:
age, calcium absorption diminishes, even in healthy persons who
are not deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency also often occurs
in the elderly. Since vitamin D enhances calcium absorption, a
deficiency can ultimately lead to malabsorption of calcium.
Malabsorption of calcium is almost certainly a major factor in
age-related bone loss in men and women. Accordingly, the dietary
calcium requirement is higher in the elderly.