Watch Medications for Lactose Intolerant Elders


A Column By Carol Bradley Bursack

Dear Readers: Many older people develop lactose intolerance, but so do younger folks. Some ethnic groups find that they suffer from this intolerance more than the rest of the population. Lactose is a milk sugar that requires the enzyme lactase for proper digestion. When lactase levels are low, as they are in many people, and those people consume milk or cream, they generally have mild to severe digestive problems, including diarrhea.

One gentleman wrote that his wife had a problem with lactose, as do many of his family members. He said, “After fighting the problem for many months, we found out that many medications contain lactose. My wife has Alzheimer’s disease, and some of the medications she is on contain lactose. Not only that, lactose is considered to be a inactive ingredient, so it is not usually listed in the ingredients. Asking a pharmacist to check all of the ingredients on medications is a smart move for many. … Now, when my wife gets her medications, she also gets a lactase (enzyme) tablet to help digest the lactose. This has solved the problem.”

Readers, when my friend Joe developed diarrhea that was bad enough that he finally had to fess up and ask me what to do, I took him to a doctor. Poor Joe went through several miserable tests and was sent home with no explanation and no help. They just told him he was healthy and had to live with it. He was stuck with frustrating diarrhea.

I’ve always been pretty savvy about food and nutrition but hadn’t thought anything of the milk he used, since I only got him a quart a week for his cereal. After no diagnosis was made, I finally suggested he try lactase. To put it mildly, I wished I’d thought of it earlier. After I picked up lactase drops, I treated each quart of milk when I opened it for him. Voila! Problem solved.

Joe wasn’t on medication, but now I wonder about other elders I cared for. When one considers the number of people in the general population who are lactose intolerant, it’s unbelievable that lactose is considered inactive and therefore not listed in the ingredients.

Anyone who has an elder or any member of the family with this condition should ask a pharmacist to check all ingredients in any medication they take. And keep the lactase tablets handy.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at Her blog can be found at