HEALTHIER AGING: Keep the upper GI tract from going downhill

October 2005 
Volume 35  Number 10
Pages 28 - 29
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AGE CAN DO A NUMBER on your older patient's upper gastrointestinal (GI) system, making her more prone to some GI disorders. Just as important, age-related changes can diminish her desire to eat and ability to digest food. When her nutritional status goes downhill, so does her overall health.

In this article, I'll discuss some common age-related upper GI system changes and how they can affect your patient's health. In a later column, I'll review changes involving the lower GI tract.

From mouth to stomach

As they age, people produce less saliva, which means that an older patient will be chewing drier food that's harder to swallow. This increases her risk of choking and aspirating food. Saliva is about 99.5% water and contains electrolytes such as sodium, so decreased saliva production can contribute to fluid and electrolyte imbalances.

Normally, digestion ...

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