6 Simple Solutions for Chronic Constipation in Seniors

constipation in seniors

A common problem for seniors

Nobody wants to talk about being constipated, but it’s an issue that many older adults and caregivers have to deal with.

Digestive discomfort can seriously affect your senior’s life. It can cause them to not want to eat or exercise and to be generally cranky and uncooperative. It can also cause unwanted behavior in older adults with Alzheimer’s or dementia – like getting into their incontinence briefs. Ongoing constipation can make life miserable for them and you.


Helpful tips from the New York Times and a top gastroenterologist

The New York Times shared helpful tips on how to relieve chronic constipation in safe, gentle ways. Their article is based on new research by Dr. Wald, a gastroenterologist at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

We’ve summarized the points from the article that are most useful for caregivers.


Why constipation in seniors is so common

Seniors are more likely to have chronic constipation because of:

  • Side effects from medications like opiates for pain (Percocet, Oxycontin, Norco), antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and antihistamines
  • Medical conditions like strictures, tumors, Parkinson’s disease, or low thyroid
  • Slowing or weakening of the digestive system due to aging or frailty


What’s the medical definition of constipation?

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to have a bowel movement every day in order to be considered regular. But going longer than 3 days without a bowel movement is too long. And by then, stool has become harder and more difficult to pass.

Symptoms of constipation include:

  • Few bowel movements
  • Trouble having a bowel movement (straining)
  • Hard or small stools
  • Feeling like everything didn’t come out
  • Swollen abdomen or abdominal pain
  • Vomiting


6 helpful tips to relieve constipation

1. Avoid constipating foods like:

  • White rice and other refined grains
  • Unripe bananas
  • Tea
  • Cheese
  • Chocolate

2. Regularly eat (and drink) foods like:

  • Beans
  • Whole grains, especially bran
  • Vegetables
  • Fresh and dried fruit
  • Nuts
  • High-fiber foods
  • Water – softens stool and stimulates the bowel

Note: If constipation is caused by a nerve or muscle problem, it may be better to eat less fiber and instead, use medication that adds water to the colon to soften stool. Check with the doctor for the best solution.

3. Exercise regularly and as vigorously as possible
Exercise is great for overall health, so it’s no surprise that it also helps regulate the digestive system.

4. Establish a regular bathroom time and also respond immediately to the urge to go
It’s a good idea to have a daily routine where your older adult at least “tries” to go at the same time every day. But whenever they feel the urge, they should go immediately.

5. Take a daily soluble fiber supplement
Add a product like Benefiber or Metamucil to beverages – today’s formulas should dissolve completely and won’t be gritty.

Note: See note in #2

6. Use laxatives properly
Dr. Wald’s research showed that long-term use of laxatives like Senokot or Dulcolax won’t harm the colon or cause dependence if they’re used in recommended amounts. Of course, you should always speak with your senior’s doctor before trying any new treatment or medication.


When to see the doctor

Don’t hesitate to discuss constipation with your older adult’s doctor. If you’ve tried a combination of dietary changes, exercise, and over-the-counter remedies and your senior isn’t getting any relief, it’s time to see the doctor to rule out other medical conditions.


Next Step  Read the full article at the New York Times


You might also like:
VIDEO: 15 Minute Senior Exercise Program for Balance and Strength
Why Do Seniors Lose Their Appetites?
Why Do Seniors Have Trouble Swallowing?


By DailyCaring Editorial Staff
Image: mimonis


  • Reply July 7, 2019


    I took a Dulcolax laxative pill and nothing happened. The pill had expired 6 months ago. Is that the cause ? Should I try a different laxative? I’m usually successful with Dukcolax stool softener with mild laxative but I have to take 2 for it to work any recommendations?

    • Reply July 7, 2019


      The best thing to do is to call your doctor to get their advice. We’re not doctors or medical professionals, so unfortunately we aren’t able to provide any specific recommendations.

  • Reply January 6, 2019


    What daily health maintenance supplements are good for seniors? Thank so much.

    • Reply January 7, 2019


      Each person’s health conditions and needs are different so it’s best to talk with your older adult’s primary doctor to find out if they recommend any vitamins or supplements. And if someone is already taking other medications or over the counter drugs, a doctor should review any added vitamins or supplements for possible negative side effects or drug interactions.

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