The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that one in every 141 people in America has celiac disease, yet many people know little about the condition. In fact, some people have it and don’t even know it. October is Celiac Awareness Month, a month dedicated to educating people about this serious condition. If you’ve noticed your aging family member has digestive problems after eating foods that contain wheat, an understanding of celiac disease may help you to determine if you need to seek medical attention.
Celiac Disease is an Autoimmune Disease
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which a person’s immune system attacks their small intestine if they eat foods that contain gluten. Gluten is a form of protein that is found in wheat, barley, and rye. The disease causes damage to the villi that line the small intestine and help the body to absorb nutrients. This means that a person with celiac disease may have trouble getting enough nutrients to be healthy.
The condition is hereditary, so having a close relative with the disease makes a person more likely to get it. In the past, doctors thought that celiac disease began during a person’s childhood. However, more recent information shows that it can start at any age, including when a person is elderly.
It’s important to note that celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are not the same thing. Though the symptoms may be similar, the difference is that in a person with gluten sensitivity, the villi are not damaged. Celiac disease is also different from having an allergic reaction to wheat because wheat allergies do not damage the small intestine.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease
The symptoms people with celiac disease experience can be different. They are also not limited to digestive system symptoms. In fact, adults are more likely to experience symptoms that affect other areas of the body.
Symptoms of celiac disease include:
-Skin rash that is itchy or blistered.
-Pain in the joints.
-Heartburn and acid reflux.
-Ulcers in the mouth.
-Reduction in bone density.
-Neurological symptoms, such as numbness in the extremities, loss of balance, and cognitive issues.
If you have an older adult family member with celiac disease, a senior care provider can help. Senior care providers can assist with preparing gluten-free meals. They can also remind the person to take their medications. Senior care providers can even drive your loved one to medical appointments.