Constipation in the Elderly

Constipation in the elderly

Constipation in the elderly is a common complaint, and it is generally caused by several factors. These factors include dietary habits such as changes in their diet, including not drinking enough fluids.

Other factors that contribute to constipation in the elderly include certain health conditions, depression, stress, the use of multiple prescription medications, including pain medications and low participation in physical activity such as exercise.

In addition, calcium carbonate supplements, iron supplements, and antacids containing aluminum can also cause constipation.

In the United States about 4.5 million (or more) people say they are constipated most or all the time. Those reporting constipation complaints are often women, seniors (65+), and children.

Constipation is hard, dry stools that are difficult to pass as a result of food passing through the large intestine too slowly.

Fiber adds bulk to stool, it absorbs water to help soften stool, and it stimulates contractions in the body that produce the urge to have a bowel movement.

What is a normal bowel movement?

There really is no "normal" schedule for bowel movements because everyone's schedule varies so greatly that it is difficult to determine what is normal.

However, it is loosely defined as the occurrence of hard, dry bowel movements that occur at an average of less than three times a week.

Another way to view "normal" is bowel movements that are hard and dry, difficult or painful to pass, and less frequent than usual.

Treatment for Constipation in the Elderly

Treatment depends on the specific cause, duration, and the severity of the problem. Therefore, a careful evaluation by a physician is necessary. However, one mainstay treatment for constipation is increasing dietary fiber and fluids as well as getting regular exercise.

In general, the most common cause of constipation is diets high in fats and low in fiber and fluids. Fiber foods are found in plant foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Fiber that is soluble takes on a soft, gel like texture in the intestines and dissolves easily in water and, as such, it helps soften stools.

On the other hand, insoluble fiber passes through the intestine virtually unchanged and adds bulk to stools. Nonetheless, both types of fiber help prevent hard, dry stools.

However, to maximize your health benefits of fiber intake, you should eat a wide variety of high-fiber foods.

Constipation in the Elderly: Foods

Gradually increase a daily intake of high-fiber foods such as fresh fruits, raw green leafy vegetables, whole-grain oatmeal, and brown rice.

Why gradually? To help prevent gas, bloating and flatulence.

Also include foods such as asparagus, beans, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, garlic, kale, okra, peas, sweet potatoes, and whole grains.

Foods that contain high amounts of soluble fiber include adzuki beans, barley, dried beans, oats, apples, apricots, bananas, blackberries, cranberries, figs, grapes, peaches, and prunes.

Foods that contain high amounts of insoluble fiber include cereals, seeds, wheat bran, whole grains, and the skins of many vegetables as well as fruits.

Figs or prunes are considered to be the best natural laxatives.

Foods that cause constipation that should be avoided are diets high in fat, including fried, refined, and processed foods.

In addition, dairy products, salt, coffee, alcohol, sugar, soft drinks, and meat offer the body little or no fiber and are difficult to digest.

If you need a quick remedy for the relief from constipation, try drinking a large glass of water every ten minutes for a half hour. The water consumption helps to flush out toxins and is said to work wanders in relieving constipation.

Constipation in the Elderly: Fluids

It's important to drink at least eight 8 ounce glasses of water a day because fiber absorbs water, making the stool softer. Fruit and vegetable juices as well as clear soup broths are also suggested to be helpful in relieving constipation.

Constipation in the Elderly: Exercise

Physical activity stimulates the movement of waste through the intestines so if possible, a daily exercise plan is beneficial such as a 20-30 minute walk. Should this be a problem for those unable to walk, stationary exercises may be of benefit.

Constipation in the Elderly: Laxatives

Laxatives are used to promote bowel movements. However, it should be used sparingly because some of them can cause serious problems as well as they promote dependence. There are four basic types of laxatives: bulk-forming agents, stool softeners, osmotic agents, and stimulate laxatives.

Bulk-forming Laxatives – Bulk-forming laxatives are considered the safest and the best choice. They are made up of fiber or fiber-like compounds derived from plants and seeds or created synthetically. Examples include foods such as bran and psyllium seeds. These bulk forming laxatives are also found in supplemental form known as fiber supplements.

Stool Softeners- Stool softeners such as mineral oil and docusate sodium (found in Colace and Dialose) lubricate and soften stools in the intestine, making it easier to pass. However, mineral oil, for example, interferes with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and docusate sodium may increase the toxicity of other drugs taken at the same time and, as such, they should not be used on a regular basis. Indeed, not one of our top choices for treating constipation in the elderly.

Osmotic agents- These substances are designed to promote secretion of water into the colon, which softens the stool and makes it easier to pass. It too is recommended only for occasional use because dependency can result. Examples include lactulose (Cephulac and Chronulac), sorbitol, milk of magnesia, Epsom salts, and others.

Stimulate Laxatives- These substances irritate the intestinal wall, stimulating muscular contractions in the intestines that speed up stool. These stimulates can damage the bowels when used habitually, and they can also lead to dependency. Examples include Dulcolax, Peri-Colace, Dialose Plus, Perdiem, and Senokot.

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We hope this webpage discussing constipation in the elderly was useful to you.

To Your Health!

The Editors

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