What You Need to Know About Preventing and Treating Parasites in the Elderly
Our elders can be at an increased risk for complications from intestinal parasites because of their weakened immune systems. The presence of a parasite increases the risk of malnutrition, leaving them vulnerable to falls and weakness.
Learn more about how to prevent parasites in the elderly and how to safeguard your senior loved one from an invasion of internal parasites.
Intestinal Parasites in the Elderly
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that there are millions of cases of intestinal parasites in the United States and that the elderly are at a higher risk for infection due to weakened immune systems.
Parasites are tiny creatures that live inside the digestive system, intestines and stomach. They are picked up by drinking or eating something that has nearly invisible parasite eggs on them, like contaminated food or water.
The CDC states that the most common types of parasites in the U.S. are:
- Roundworms (caused by Toxocara larvae)
- Toxoplasmosis (found in cat feces)
The World Health Organization (WHO) also lists common intestinal parasites like:
- Cryptosporidium parvum
- Cyclospora cayetanesis
- Hookworms ( caused by Necator americanus and Ancylostoma duodenale)
- Roundworms (caused by Ascaris lumbricoides)
- Taenia saginata (beef tapeworm)
- Taenia solium (pork tapeworm)
- Trichinella spiralis
- Whipworms (caused by Trichuris trichiura)
Once a parasite gets inside the body, they make themselves comfortable and the body uncomfortable, but there is no need for panic. Parasites are often preventable and treatable.
Intestinal Parasite Symptoms
Intestinal parasites can produce a variety of symptoms that include:
- Body aches.
- Decreased appetite.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Increased weakness.
- Overall tiredness.
- Stomach cramps and pain.
Symptoms will often become more severe as the parasites reproduce. The more there are, the more they will affect the body.
Other symptoms that can present themselves are:
- Blood in the stool
- Difficulty sleeping
- Increased anxiety
- Itching around the anus
Symptoms, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will typically show up from days to weeks after the eggs have been ingested. The WHO states that unsafe food handling and preparation is one of the most common causes of parasite infection.
The elderly can be at an increased risk for complications from parasites because of their weakened immune systems. When the body is less able to fight off an infection, the infection can grow more quickly. Unfortunately, parasites and the poisons they release into the body can also lead to blindness, heart failure, seizures and even death in seniors.
How to Prevent Intestinal Parasites
As with many forms of infections, proper handwashing is the first step to stopping the parasites from entering the body.
There are three other key points to remember when dealing with preventing a parasite infection:
1. Be aware of parasites.
An infection of parasites can start with just one microscopic egg entering the system. Make sure that you and your parent or senior loved one are aware of common types of parasites and how they are spread. If you or a loved one are experiencing unexplained symptoms, talk to a doctor about the possibility of parasites.
2. Safe food and water handling.
Make sure that your parent only drinks water from a safe source, whether traveling or visiting a rural setting. Peel or wash all raw fruits and vegetables before a loved one eats them. Remember to cook food to the recommended safe temperature.
3. Safe pet practices.
Unfortunately, our beloved family pets can often be a source of parasites. Cats, in particular, are a common host for the toxoplasmosis parasite. The USDA recommends:
- Cleaning the cat’s litter box daily as the parasites grow the longer the feces sit
- Feeding pets commercial pet food or fully-cooked foods
- Washing hands after petting a pet or handling any feces
- Wearing gloves when gardening if the neighborhood pets use the garden as a litter box
Ways to Treat Intestinal Parasites in the Elderly
Treatment for parasites starts with getting an accurate diagnosis.
The doctor may order different tests such as:
- A blood test that looks for evidence that your body is fighting an invader.
- A colonoscopy or endoscopy that uses a scope to look at internal organs.
- Fecal (stool) exam called an ova and parasite test that looks for eggs or live parasites in your stool.
When the doctor has determined the specific parasite that is causing symptoms, oral medication will likely be prescribed. This medication kills the living parasites and allows them to pass through the stool. There may also be a follow-up course of medication to clear the eggs or a senior loved one may need to be tested again to make sure that the body is parasite free.
Don’t let the body be a host for the free-loading parasite. Stay aware of how these tricky parasites will enter the system and plan to knock them out quickly.
What has your experience been like preventing or treating parasites in the elderly? What suggestions do you have for helping a senior loved one? We would like to hear your tips in the comments below.
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