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There are more than 54 million people in the US aged 65 or older with this figure expected to continue to increase over the next 20 years. Similar trends are seen across the globe with 11% of the population classified as elderly in Israel in 2015- a number that has an expected 77% increase over the next 15 years. In Israel the percentage of the elderly population living in nursing homes stands at 4.5%, assisted living facilities 2%, leaving the majority of this population still living within the community. The presence of food allergies within the elderly community is currently estimated between 5%-10% but the real figure is said to be much higher due to the population being underdiagnosed with a recent study showing numbers at high as 20% in those aged 60 to 79 years.

FOOD ALLERGIES ELDERLY

----------Food allergies can be particularly dangerous for seniors due to their weakened immune systems----------

These numbers pose a significant challenge to the ever-growing prevalence of food allergies in the elderly population, a greatly under-researched sector. Excuses given for the lack of research includes; subjects are too tired to properly use in the study, their lack of interest in science, and reliability among others. However, those are just that- excuses, and with food allergies on a drastic rise and the lifespan increase over the last 20 years- it is imperative that researchers place a focus on this sector of the food allergy community as quickly as possible. Further research into food allergies of the senior population is particularly important as any allergy that can affect a whole food group needs to be closely monitored to avoid a vitamin or mineral deficiency- increasing the risks of malnutrition, an issue particularly prominent in this population.  

------  Australia- Over the past 3 years, there has been a 5 fold increase in hospital admissions due to anaphylaxis. Of these hospitalizations, the 55 to 74 age group are seen to suffer a higher degree of fatal anaphylactic reactions. --------

Most Common Food Allergies in adults

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Summary of Facts

 Age 20-30  Food Allergies  Age > 65
 Low  Multi-medication  High
 Good  Accuracy of SPT's  Often False negative
 Normal  Formation of Anti-bodies  Impaired 
 Normal  Frequency of Allergic Symptoms  Reduced
 Normal  Extent of Allergic Symptoms  High due to co-medications
Usually Normal  Response to Epinephrine  Reduced

 

Conclusion

Managing a food allergy as an senior presents unique challenges to an already more complicated period in ones life. The situation is especially delicate when dealing with food allergies as a couple- when one spouse has a sudden onset of food allergies, when placing an elderly person in a care facility or when making decisions regarding a person with dementia who has a food allergies. These topics will be explored in future articles.