8 Crohn’s Management Tips for Seniors

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Crohn’s disease is a lifelong condition. And as you age, you’re more likely to be coping with several health conditions and taking multiple medications, which can complicate how you manage it all.

People who are 65 or older represent the largest growing population of people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Research has found that older age of onset doesn’t necessarily mean milder disease and that older people with Crohn’s may be more likely to require surgery.

Whether you have a new diagnosis or have been living with Crohn’s disease for years, you likely already know that it requires lifelong management.

Managing Crohn’s doesn’t look the same for everyone. Much depends on the severity of symptoms and any other health issues you may have. And older adults may have other factors to consider, such as managing multiple chronic health conditions or dealing with an increased risk of infections.

Here are some tips that can help you manage Crohn’s disease as you age.

According to a 2018 review, more than half of older adults are managing two or more chronic conditions.

Crohn’s disease may sometimes be front and center, but it’s important to take care of all your health needs. Any other health conditions you may have, such as cardiovascular diseases or diabetes, can affect your Crohn’s disease, so it’s important to manage them as well.

For older adults with multiple conditions, research suggests that the best way to improve outcomes is through coordinated care. Be sure to share medical information with all your doctors so they can work together. And stay up to date on doctor visits, vaccinations, and cancer screenings.

About 14% of people with Crohn’s disease are malnourished because they don’t eat enough or can’t absorb enough nutrients from food. In addition, poor appetite affects about 30% of older adults.

Older people with Crohn’s have an increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures due to malnutrition. Malnutrition can also lead to unintended weight loss, fatigue, weakness, delayed wound healing, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

You may be able to boost your appetite by participating in physical and social activities. Choosing nutrient-dense foods, such as leafy greens, may help you get more nutrients from the food you eat. It may also help to eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day rather than one or two large meals.

If nutrition is an ongoing problem, talk with your doctor. Find out if you should take nutritional supplements. They can also offer advice on how to stimulate your appetite or refer you to a dietitian to help with meal planning.

People with multiple chronic diseases, and older adults in general, are more susceptible to dehydration. Dehydration is associated with poor health outcomes. If you have diarrhea due to Crohn’s disease, it’s important to replenish fluids.

If drinking enough water is a problem, keep a water bottle handy and set a timer to remind yourself to drink.

Research shows that regular physical activity is associated with better mental and physical health and well-being. It can help protect against diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some forms of cancer. It may also help reduce disease activity in people with Crohn’s disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes a week for vigorous activity. This should include some muscle strengthening and balance exercises. Water exercises are a good choice if you have joint problems.

While regular exercise is important, if you’re in the middle of a Crohn’s flare, it may be a good idea to rest and resume exercise once your symptoms subside.

If you have physical limitations, ask your doctor for information about physical therapy or an exercise program appropriate for your needs.

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease change over time, which means your treatment plan may need to be updated as you age. The goal is to help prevent complications and maintain a good quality of life.

It may help to keep a journal of your symptoms that you can bring with you to your next doctor visit. Ask if your medication is working as well as expected. And report any other changes to your overall health as well.

Sometimes, it’s hard to tell if you’re dealing with changing symptoms of Crohn’s disease or something else altogether. Tell your doctor right away if you have unusual or severe symptoms.

If you’re managing Crohn’s and other health conditions, you may be taking a number of medications.

Drug interactions can be harmful or affect the potency of medications. Be sure to inform your doctor and pharmacist of all the medications you take, including over-the-counter meds and dietary supplements.

As you age, factors such as changes to your immune system and the development of chronic conditions can increase your risk of infections.

In addition, some medications for Crohn’s disease are from a class of drugs called immunomodulators. These drugs work by suppressing the immune system, which can increase the risk of bacterial, fungal, and viral infections.

Here are a few ways to minimize your risk of infections:

  • Stay up to date on vaccinations and immunizations, especially before traveling.
  • Wash your hands well before preparing or eating food. Don’t share from the same plate or utensils.
  • Clean and bandage minor wounds. Get medical care for major wounds or bites.
  • Try to avoid close contact with people who have symptoms of respiratory infection, such as coughing, sneezing, and wheezing.

See a doctor if you have signs of infection, such as fever, vomiting, or swollen lymph nodes.

Living with Crohn’s disease can be challenging. People with IBD have higher rates of anxiety and depression symptoms than the general population. Social isolation can also be a problem.

Here are some steps you can take to get the support you need:

  • Educate the people closest to you about Crohn’s disease and your specific needs. Let them know how and when they can help.
  • Seek out local and online support groups, such as Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, for people with IBD or other chronic conditions.
  • Plan ahead for social outings. Ask for any special accommodations in advance. Scope out bathrooms so you don’t waste time in an emergency. Make a plan: know what you’ll do if you don’t feel well.
  • Consider seeing a therapist for symptoms of anxiety or depression.
  • If you need help with everyday tasks, ask your doctor about assistive care options.

As you age, taking care of Crohn’s disease can get a bit more complicated. That’s because you’re more likely to have other health conditions and medications to manage. Coordinating care among doctors can help. So can ensuring good nutrition and hydration, as well as seeking out help when you need it.

There are more things to consider as you age, but a healthy lifestyle and keeping up with regular medical care can keep you on the right track.

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