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
6 helpful tips to relieve constipation
1. Avoid constipating foods like:
- White rice and other refined grains
- Unripe bananas
2. Regularly eat (and drink) foods like:
- Whole grains, especially bran
- Fresh and dried fruit
- 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.
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.
By DailyCaring Editorial Staff