Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) happens when stomach acid flows into one’s esophagus — that’s the tube connecting your mouth to your stomach — more than once or twice a week. This irritating and occasionally dangerous gastrointestinal disorder can affect anyone, from newborns to older adults. But it’s widespread among seniors, including those in Nassau County.
You may hear the terms “heartburn” and “acid reflux” when discussing GERD. Think of these as occasional bouts of acid indigestion. Medical professionals use the term GERD for repeat, continual acid reflux issues.
Per the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of GERD include:
- A burning sensation in the chest, like heartburn.
- It usually happens after eating a meal and is often worse at night.
- Chest pain is common.
- Difficulty swallowing is less common.
- Regurgitation/vomiting can occur.
- A sensation of a lump in your throat is often reported.
Over many years, it can lead to precancerous growths and might cause esophageal cancer.
GERD is Uncomfortable
The worst instances of GERD feel like hot lava in the esophagus. That makes sense because the digestive fluids leaking into that tube are highly acidic.
- This discomfort is particularly unhealthy for the elderly because it can irritate or exacerbate other issues.
- For instance, GERD can disturb your loved one’s sleep and leave them cranky or even exhausted.
- Becoming over-tired can trigger dementia episodes, and exhaustion may be linked to “sundowning,” the end of day confusion that seems to lead to wandering among Alzheimer’s patients.
- GERD can exacerbate asthma or COPD issues and cause a chronic cough.
For all those reasons, it’s essential to help our older family members cope with GERD.
3 Ways to Help Your Senior Cope with GERD
The good news is that GERD can often be managed with some behavior changes. Start by reviewing your family member’s diet.
Avoid Trigger Foods
Trigger foods that exacerbate GERD are usually acidic and spicy.
Avoid foods like:
- Spicy curry dishes
- Hot sauce
- Greasy meats like hamburger
- Fast food
- Deep-fried foods
Some beverages can cause GERD to flare up, too.
Avoid drinks like:
- Hard-hitting coffee drinks like espressos
- Dark coffees
- Acidic orange juice in the evening
- And cola
Naturally, many older individuals crave — and deserve — their coffee or orange juice. These drinks don’t need to be removed from their diet entirely. Just be sure your family member enjoys them earlier in the day. If your senior asks for a coffee after dinner, for instance, redirect them to a clear soda.
Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals (and Don’t Eat Before Bedtime)
The Mayo Clinic says large meals take longer to digest. That means your stomach has more time to push acid and food into your esophagus. Plus, when we eat a large meal near bedtime, a lot of material will remain undigested. This will cause GERD symptoms when we lay down in bed.
A small snack is okay, especially if it’s important for medication management. (Some medications are tough on tummies.) But keep it simple and small, like a cheese stick or a single piece of toast.
Talk to Your Doctor About Pain Meds and Blood Pressure Meds
There is a known link between some medications and acid reflux. Some over-the-counter NSAIDs — aspirin and ibuprofen — irritate the stomach and contribute to GERD. Now, this doesn’t mean one should discontinue their nightly aspirin regimen, which might ease arthritis for a good night’s sleep and reduce the risk of heart attacks. But if your loved one is suffering from nightly heartburn symptoms, it’s worth discussing at your next doctor appointment.
Blood pressure medications can cause acid reflux, too. Your physician might be able to find a prescription that’s gentler on your stomach.
Our Final Advice
Finally, pay attention to your senior’s comments about their GERD. If they experience a flare-up after a particular meal not listed here, make a note of it. Again, your loved one may not need to quit their favorite food — even if it causes reflux. Just try a smaller amount, eaten earlier in the day.
You can learn more about senior nutrition and senior care topics on our blog. Our mission at David York Agency is to provide outstanding in-home care for New York seniors, including those with Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Please contact us if you’d like to hear more about specialized care for seniors.
David York Understands Gastrointestinal Disorders in Nassau County
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