Caring for an Elderly Loved One with Celiac Disease

While celiac disease and gluten intolerance have a long history, research and information have become more prevalent in the last couple of years. Celiac disease is a chronic digestive and immune disorder in which the ingestion of gluten damages the small intestine. Due to its increased recognizable symptoms, more people and doctors are recognizing how prevalent it is in the population and how to accommodate using gluten-free food. Celiac disease is more prevalent in people who are more genetically predisposed to food sensitivities and will have increased issues consuming foods such as rye, wheat, and barley as they contain gluten.  Gluten can actually trigger a negative autoimmune effect in the body which leads to the body trying to fight off the allergen which damages parts of the small intestine.  People with celiac disease are quite common now as it affects approximately 1 in 100 people, as well, 33% of all people with celiac disease are seniors.

Symptoms of Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder and autoimmune disorders are unique to the individual which means that symptoms will also be experienced differently based on each person. The severity of the following symptoms exists on a scale that is differentiated according to each person.

Symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Abdomen pain
  • Stomach cramping
  • Anemia
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Muscle pain
  • Irritability


If your elderly loved one is suffering from any of the previous symptoms, they may have a gluten intolerance or suffer from celiac disease. From a medical standpoint, these two conditions are caused by a similar trigger but are different conditions. It is important that if you or your elderly loved one are suffering from any of those symptoms you reach out to your family care physician in order to receive a diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately, as with most food-based allergies and conditions, the predominant strategy for treatment is avoiding the allergen. Celiac disease and gluten intolerance can cause long-term damage specifically to your lower intestine. Due to the potential damage, it is important to cut out and avoid gluten. This means that your elderly loved one should adhere to a gluten-free diet which means that they cannot consume any meals or beverages that contain gluten. This can be incredibly frustrating, especially if the condition is coming later in life because many of their favorite foods are no longer safe for them to eat. It is important to be emotionally supportive and creative when rebuilding their meals and diet plan or your elderly loved one may feel resentful and frustrated with their new diet. Stay positive and try to find gluten-free alternatives to some of their favorite foods and introduce them to new meals that do not contain gluten to hopefully find some new favorites.

Here are some example for a Gluten-Free Food:

  • Rice
  • Meat
  • Dairy
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Beans

Luckily, most food is naturally gluten-free; however, a lot of processed food contains gluten. Items that often include gluten contain rye, wheat, and barley which means the majority of gluten foods to avoid are bread and pasta. It is important to check the label of processed foods including sauces, salad dressings, and other pre-made meals because gluten is a common additive. Luckily, in the last five years, it has become more common for companies to create gluten-free alternatives and to put the Gluten-Free ‘GF’ sign on their branding label. When you and your elderly loved one are shopping at the grocery store ensure you are looking out for the GF sign for gluten-free alternatives and carefully checking the label for any rye, wheat, or barley.

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