Maldigestion Versus Malabsorption in the Elderly

Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2020 Jun 4;22(7):33. doi: 10.1007/s11894-020-00771-5.


Purpose of review: To evaluate recently published information about the frequency of maldigestion and malabsorption in older individuals, likely diagnoses causing these problems, and the diagnostic scheme when these diagnoses are being considered.

Recent findings: Although the prevalence of malnourishment and frank malnutrition may be increasing among older adults admitted to the hospital, this appears to be due to reduced food intake rather than maldigestion or malabsorption. The mechanisms of food digestion and absorption seem to be resilient, even in old age, but concurrent illness may produce malabsorption in older individuals. Illnesses that may be more common among the elderly include small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, enteropathies, vascular disease, diabetes, and certain infections, such as Whipple's disease. In addition, older adults may have had previous surgeries or exposure to medicines which may induce malabsorption. The presentation of maldigestion and malabsorption in the elderly may be different than in younger individuals, and this may contribute to delayed recognition, diagnosis, and treatment. Diagnostic testing for maldigestion and malabsorption generally is similar to that used in younger patients. Maldigestion and malabsorption occur in older individuals and require a high level of suspicion, especially when weight loss, sarcopenia, or nutrient deficiencies are present.

Keywords: Digestive symptoms; Malabsorption; Maldigestion; Malnutrition; Older adults.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Bile Acids and Salts / deficiency
  • Bile Acids and Salts / metabolism
  • Blind Loop Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Blind Loop Syndrome / etiology
  • Diabetes Complications / diagnosis
  • Diabetes Complications / etiology
  • Diarrhea / diagnosis
  • Diarrhea / etiology
  • Disaccharides / deficiency
  • Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency / diagnosis
  • Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency / etiology
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / diagnosis
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / etiology
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Diseases / diagnosis
  • Intestinal Diseases / etiology
  • Intestine, Small / physiopathology
  • Malabsorption Syndromes* / diagnosis
  • Malabsorption Syndromes* / etiology
  • Malnutrition* / diagnosis
  • Malnutrition* / etiology
  • Steatorrhea / diagnosis
  • Steatorrhea / etiology


  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Disaccharides

Supplementary concepts

  • Bile Acid Malabsorption, Primary