Some of the most common causes of diarrhea in the elderly include gastrointestinal disease, certain medications, food borne diseases, bacterial infections, food intolerance and immune deficiencies. Not all elderly people experience bouts of diarrhea, but many are frustrated by its onset, which can lead to more dangerous health risks if it persists. Many causes are avoidable, and understanding what diarrhea is as well as what causes it might help lower the number of cases.
Diarrhea is an abnormal bowel movement — specifically, a bowel movement that is watery and occurs at frequent intervals, usually more than three times per day. It is often accompanied by stomach pain and discomfort. Other symptoms, such as nausea, fever and even vomiting are often experienced as well. When these symptoms occur at the same time, it is usually caused by an infection and only lasts a few days with proper treatment.
Acute diarrhea, on the other hand, is described as abnormal bowel movements that can last up to two weeks. This might be symptomatic of a more severe illness or allergic response. Diarrhea in the elderly that lasts longer than two weeks is known as persistent diarrhea or even chronic diarrhea, if it lasts for more than a month.
Most people think of abnormal bowel movements as frustrating, even though they are non-threatening, but diarrhea actually can be fatal for elderly sufferers. Not only might the underlying illness cause death, but the important fluids and nutrients lost by frequent and long-lasting bowel movements can be dangerous as well. One of the world's leading causes of death is attributed to infectious diarrheal diseases, and the majority of these cases are among senior citizens.
The most common causes of diarrhea in the elderly also are some of the most avoidable. By maintaining good hygiene, keeping the immune system strong through a healthy diet and avoiding unsafe food practices, many infections can be avoided. In cases where diarrhea is caused by medications or another underlying illness, immediate medical attention should be sought.
Preventing the conditions that cause diarrhea is the best way to avoid it. Safe food handling practices, including keeping raw meat away from vegetables and other foods, washing the hands regularly, and disinfecting kitchen utensils and surfaces that have come in contact with raw meat and dairy products, should always be employed when preparing meals. Frequent hand washing, particularly after using the bathroom, also is recommended in order to reduce the incidents of infectious disease.