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What You Need to Know About Preventing and Treating Stomach Bugs in the Elderly

Crystal Jo
By Crystal JoJanuary 10, 2019

Approximately 1% of the population over the age of 65 will be hospitalized and need treatment because of a stomach bug. For many people, getting a stomach bug is just frustrating, but stomach bugs can lead to serious complications and hospitalization in the elderly, who are at a higher risk for confusion and dehydration.

Learn more about how to prevent and treat stomach bugs to keep your senior loved ones safe.

Stomach Bugs

Children and the elderly are most at risk from complications caused by gastroenteritis – also known as “the stomach bug.”

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Primary symptoms include:

  • Chills and fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Pain in the lower abdomen or stomach
  • Vomiting

The most common types of stomach bugs are caused by:

1. Food Poisoning

You can get food poisoning when you eat food that has gone “bad.” Unfortunately, it will not always be obvious when food has been contaminated. Some common bacteria that can cause an upset stomach include:

  • E.coli
  • Salmonella
  • Shigella

2. Norovirus

Norovirus is a stomach infection also known as Norwalk. The virus is spread by being in contact with a sick person, eating contaminated food or water or touching a contaminated surface. Norovirus is easily spread through group settings like daycares and nursing homes.

3. Parasites

People in developed countries can get intestinal parasites or worms in their guts. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that millions of people in the United States are living with a parasite.

Some of the most common parasites are:

  • Giardia
  • Pinworms
  • Roundworms
  • Tapeworms
  • Toxoplasmosis (from contact with cat litter)

You can pick up a parasite from any contact with contaminated food or water or with stool that contains the eggs.

Usually not the subject of polite conversations, these symptoms can make it hard for our elderly parents to discuss them with us. This is why it is so important to know how to manage symptoms and prevent the stomach bug in senior loved ones.

Ways to Prevent Stomach Bugs in the Elderly

The number one rule for preventing stomach bugs is to: be careful what is put in the mouth! Most bacteria, parasites and viruses enter the digestive system through the mouth.

To reduce exposure to stomach bugs, use these tips:

1. Keep the digestive system healthy.

Most stomach bugs are caused by “opportunistic” germs. This means that when the body is stressed, tired and weak, the germs take the opportunity to make the body sick. The healthier and stronger the digestive system is, the less likely you are to get sick. Avoid the foods that weaken the body and feed the system with foods that are high in nutrition. Highly processed foods that contain large amounts of sugar will feed the germs and make them stronger. Fresh, whole foods will feed the body and allow the body to fight off infections.

2. Wash hands.

Make washing hands a part of everyday life. Think about where the hands have been and what they have touched before they come near the mouth.

As we age, the immune system becomes weaker. This makes it harder to fight off infections and can lead to more serious complications. The elderly also tend to have less stomach acid in their bodies. Stomach acid is nature’s way of killing the germs that make it into the stomach.

Ways to Manage Stomach Bug Symptoms

Stomach bugs can start very suddenly and cause severe vomiting and diarrhea. If your parent or senior loved one is frail, living alone or weak, they are vulnerable to not being able to get help.

Your loved one will need care and lots of liquids to prevent dehydration. If your loved one has diarrhea or is vomiting, make sure that they are drinking electrolyte-replacing beverages and extra fluids. Offer small amounts of fluid (2-4 ounces) every half an hour.

If your loved one is showing any signs of dehydration, you will want to get them to a medical professional right away.

Look for:

  • Confusion
  • Dry mouth
  • Feeling faint
  • Not peeing regularly or urine is dark in color
  • Not responding
  • Sunken eyes and no tears

Being sick and having a stomach bug is a horrible feeling. You can take the best care of your parent or senior loved one by ensuring that they receive lots of rest, plenty of care and regular fluids. Then don’t forget to wash your own hands and keep yourself healthy too!

Have you, a parent or senior loved one had stomach bugs in the past? What other tips do you wish you knew? We’d like to hear your suggestions in the comments below.

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Crystal Jo
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Crystal Jo
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