Changes in Gastrointestinal Functioning with Age

Karen E. Hall, MD, PhD, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Geriatric Medicine, University of Michigan Healthcare System; Geriatric Research, Education, and Care Center, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Ann Arbor, MI, USA.

An understanding of the changes in gastrointestinal function that occur with aging can assist physicians in making patient care decisions. Aging affects many aspects of gastrointestinal function; however, swallowing and colonic function are particularly vulnerable to age-related changes. This explains the high prevalence of swallowing disorders and lower GI tract problems such as constipation and fecal incontinence seen by gastroenterologists and primary care physicians among the older adults they treat. Common comorbid conditions in the geriatric population, such as impairment in cognition and mobility, can affect the treatment of older adults with GI disease. This article highlights important changes in gastrointestinal function that occur with aging.
Key words: dysphagia, constipation, diarrhea, gastrointestinal immunity, gastric function.