Few gastrointestinal functions decline to an important extent as a result of old age alone and there is little clinical evidence that significant malnutrition occurs in any normal elderly person as a result of the aging process itself. Nevertheless, decreased gastrointestinal reserve makes older people highly sensitive to minor insults and decompensation can rapidly occur. Drugs appreciably affect taste sensation, which is already blunted and psychological as well as physical disability can have a major impact on appetite. Malabsorption can be caused by gastric hypochlorhydria with small bowel bacterial overgrowth and while gastrointestinal dysmotility can be caused by subclinical hypothyroidism, it can improve in response to physical exercise. Evidence is now mounting that thorough investigation of gastrointestinal disturbances in elderly patients coupled with intensive nutritional support can make a very real impact on their outcome. Gastroenterologists should therefore seek out and actively treat gastrointestinal disorders in the elderly and not just ascribe them to old age.
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