As seniors grow older it’s natural that their immune systems aren’t as strong as they once were. This puts them at a higher risk for intestinal parasites, which can lead to malnutrition and a higher chance of falling.
Learn the ways to protect your loved one from parasites and how to help them if it occurs.
Parasites in Seniors
Each year there are millions of cases of intestinal parasites in the United States, in which seniors have the highest risk because of their weakened immune systems.
Intestinal worms are simple organisms that feed off the human body. Many people recognize the more common varieties, such as tapeworms and hookworms, but maybe less aware of the others. They are picked up by drinking or eating something that has nearly invisible parasite eggs on them.
The most common types of parasites are:
- Roundworms: infest the human gut, where they live, feed and reproduce. They don’t often cause any symptoms, but are more likely to in large numbers.
- Hookworms: an infection by a type of intestinal parasite known as a hookworm. Initially, itching and a rash may occur at the site of infection.
- Whipworms: one of the four most common intestinal parasites of dogs. Whipworms reside in the cecum, which is inside your dog’s body where the small intestine and large intestine meet.
- Tapeworms: flat, ribbon-like worms that can live in your gut if you swallow their eggs or small, newly hatched worms.
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.
Symptoms of Intestinal Parasites
Having intestinal parasites can cause a variety of symptoms, such as:
- Digestive problems, including unexplained constipation, diarrhea, or persistent gas
- Skin issues, including unexplained rashes, eczema, hives, and itching
- Muscle and joint pain
- Fatigue, even when you get enough sleep
- Never feeling full, even after eating a big meal
- Constant hunger, even when you are eating enough
- Iron deficiency anemia (lab tests show abnormally low iron level)
- Grinding your teeth during sleep
- Unexplained feelings of anxiety
- Recurrent yeast infections
- Itching of the anus or vagina
The symptoms can become more severe as the parasites reproduce in your body. The more parasites, the worse the symptoms will become. Once the eggs are ingested symptoms can begin to show up days or weeks later. The most common cause of parasite infections is the unsafe handling and preparation of food.
Due to senior’s weakened immune systems they are more likely to have complications from parasites. Their bodies become less likely to be able to fight off infection, so the infections can increase more rapidly. Parasites can wreak havoc on the body due to the poisons they release leading to blindness, seizures, and even death in seniors.
One of the main ways to prevent parasites from entering the body is washing your hands.
The two other main points are:
Safe water and food handling
Be aware that the water being consumed is from a safe source. All fruits and vegetables should be washed and peels before consuming. Specific foods should be cooked at the correct temperature to kill possible parasites.
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.
The Victorian Assisted Living and Retirement Community
The Victorian is an assisted living and retirement community that makes living independently, while at the same time feeling safe and secure, a reality. We strive to provide the best quality of life for all residents including those suffering from loneliness and depression.
We offer a comprehensive activity program that includes both physical and social activities to encourage emotional well-being. Our staff is trained to assist those with depression. If you or a loved one are considering assisted living, contact The Victorian today to learn more about our services or tour our community.