AGING AND THE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
Many changes can be expected in the aging digestive system. The sense of taste becomes less acute, less saliva is produced, and there is greater likelihood of periodontal disease and loss of teeth.
Secretions are reduced throughout the digestive system, and the effectiveness of peristalsis diminishes. Indigestion may become more frequent, especially if the LES loses its tone, and there is a greater chance of esophageal dam-age. In the colon, diverticula may form; these are bub-ble-like outpouchings of the weakened wall of the colon that may be asymptomatic or become infected. Intestinal obstruction, of the large or small bowel, occurs with greater frequency among the elderly. Sluggish peristalsis contributes to constipation, which in turn may contribute to the formation of hemor-rhoids. The risk of oral cancer or colon cancer also increases with age.
The liver usually continues to function adequately even well into old age, unless damaged by pathogens such as the hepatitis viruses or by toxins such as alco-hol. There is a greater tendency for gallstones to form, perhaps necessitating removal of the gallbladder. Inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis) is also more frequent in older adults. In the absence of spe-cific diseases, the pancreas usually functions well, although acute pancreatitis of unknown cause is some-what more likely in elderly people.