Aging of the Digestive Tract

As you get into your older adult years, the likelihood increases that you will develop a digestive disorder.

You can develop a digestive disorder at any age, but the chances are higher as you get older.

Mouth and esophagus

Swallowing can become difficult because of dry mouth or tooth decay. A stroke, dementia, or neurodegenerative disease such as Parkinson’s can also make swallowing difficult.

The esophagus and lower esophageal sphincter become weaker with age. But these changes don’t seem to contribute to the greater likelihood of heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).


With increased age, the stomach takes longer to empty into the small intestine. This makes older adults more likely to get ulcers and bleeding from medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The stomach also becomes less elastic and can hold less food, meaning that older adults feel full more quickly.

Small intestine

The small intestine doesn’t seem to change very much with age. It does become less able to absorb certain vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, vitamin B12, and calcium. Bacterial overgrowth can cause diarrhea and unintentional weight loss in older adults.

Large intestine

Loss of muscle strength can lead to diverticulosis. These are small pouches that bulge outward through weak points in the intestinal wall. Undigested food also takes longer to move through the large intestine, leading to constipation. Polyps and colon cancer are more common in older adults.

Other organs

The liver becomes less able to metabolize medications, so it is more easily damaged. The gallbladder produces less bile, which may lead to gallstones. The pancreas doesn’t seem to change much with age.