Gastrointestinal Dysmotility in the Elderly

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Abstract

The number of persons 60 years and older has increased 3-fold between 1950 and 2000. Aging alone does not greatly impact the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Digestive dysfunction, including esophageal reflux, achalasia, dysphagia, dyspepsia, delayed gastric emptying, constipation, fecal incontinence, and fecal impaction, is a result of the highly prevalent comorbid conditions and the medications with which those conditions are treated. A multidisciplinary approach with the expertise of a geriatrician, gastroenterologist, neurologist, speech pathologist, and physical therapist ensures a comprehensive functional and neurological assessment of the older patient. Radiographic and endoscopic evaluation may be warranted in the evaluation of the symptomatic older patient with consideration given to the risks and benefits of the test being used. Treatment of the digestive dysfunction is aimed at improving health-related quality of life if cure cannot be achieved. Promotion of healthy aging, treatment of comorbid conditions, and avoidance of polypharmacy may prevent some of these digestive disorders. The age-related changes in GI motility, clinical presentation of GI dysmotility, and therapeutic principles in the symptomatic older patient are reviewed here.

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