Elderly and food poisoning

Elderly people are one of several ‘high risk’groups for food poisoning. Along with babies and young children they have a higher than normal chance of this illness which is due to the following reasons:

  • Poorly functioning immune system
  • An acute condition or a long term, chronic disorder.
  • Medication such as antibiotics or steroids

Elderly people are often prone to a variety of illnesses which is due to the fact that their immune systems are less effective at fighting disease. This can be attributed to the ageing process although there may be other factors involved which include the fact that they are likely to have a long term condition, e.g. diabetes.

Food poisoning and ‘use by’dates

A likely cause of food poisoning in the elderly is that of eating foods which have passed their ‘best before’or ‘use by’dates.

Many older people remember a time when food was rationed and as a result of this tend to be quite frugal and ‘price conscious’when it comes to food.

They are less likely to throw food away than a younger person which is often due to old habits of making food last as long as possible rather than allowing it to go to waste. Another factor is fixed incomes in the face of rising prices and an overall increase in the cost of living.

So, many elderly people will keep food for longer than they should as they regard throwing food out wasteful and unaffordable.

But the problem with this is that they will ignore foods which have no longer safe to eat which then results in food poisoning.

One example of this was an increase in the number of cases of listeria in the over 60’s which was attributed to their consumption of food which had passed its ‘use by’ date.

(Source: Nursing Times: 20 June 2009)

Reducing the risk of food poisoning in the elderly

There are measures you can take to reduce the risk of food poisoning which include:

  • Storing food at the correct temperature in the fridge or freezer.
  • Following cooking instructions carefully
  • Eating food before its ‘use by’ date

The Food Standards Agency has information about this as well as a yearly event called ‘Food Safety Week’. This event aims to promote food safety and hygiene in the home.

The 2010 event focuses upon food safety in the over 60’s which includes advice about food storage and ‘sell by/use by’labels.

More information about this can be found on their website (www.food.gov.uk).

Complications of food poisoning in the elderly

If an elderly person contracts food poisoning then the symptoms of this are likely to be much worse than for a younger person. They will experience a severe form of this illness which may lead to complications such as dehydration.

Dehydration is serious in any situation but is particularly dangerous for the elderly. Severe dehydration can result in a drop in blood pressure which affects blood supply to essential organs such as the kidneys. This results in kidney failure which can be fatal.

This is why it is important to replace depleted fluids as soon as possible. Water is the best option and when combined with an oral re-hydration powder is the most effective way of doing so.

Find out more in our complications of food poisoning section.

An elderly person who has developed food poisoning will require treatment from their GP. This is due to the reasons mentioned above which includes the risk of dehydration.

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Food Poisoning Guide

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