Senior Digestive Problems: Constipation. What to Look for and How to Help.

senior digestive problemsDigestive problems can lead to major discomfort and can significantly impact quality of life. No doubt, at some point in your life, you have experienced a bout of constipation and can understand the short-term challenges it presents to your feeling of health and wellbeing. As an elder, this challenge can be overwhelming and even debilitating, especially when coupled with a loss of mobility or other chronic health condition.

Over 40% of seniors experience a significant digestive issue every year. The most common of these ailments is constipation, which can present as infrequent, painful bowel movements; abdominal pain; nausea; and hard, dry stool. Often, though, the symptoms of constipation can be non-existent except for the lack of normal bowel movement, and this lack of symptoms can lead to severe constipation. Normal bowel habits vary between individuals, so it is important to understand your loved one’s bowel habits and what the individual would consider “normal” prior to evaluating for constipation. Bowel habits can change significantly with aging; however, should a person report two or fewer bowel movements per week, or straining to defecate 25% or more of the time, this signifies constipation.

Although there are multiple conditions that can lead to constipation, merely the regular changes in the aging bowel without any other conditions will cause an increase in constipation. As we age, muscle tone diminishes in the abdomen and in the bowel. This decrease in tone slows peristalsis, which is the involuntary movement of the intestine, pushing the contents through the bowel.

Other contributing factors include:

  • Dietary changes: Decrease in fluid intake, increase in dairy products, decrease in fiber
  • Sedentary lifestyle: Decrease in physical activity or exercise, traveling, bed rest during an illness or following surgery
  • Medications: Use of antacids containing aluminum or calcium, diuretics, narcotics, calcium channel blockers, iron, antidepressants or abrupt stopping of laxatives
  • Health conditions: Dementia, diverticulitis, depression, Parkinson’s, stroke, prostate problems, hypothyroidism and cancer are among the conditions that can all contribute to constipation

The treatment of constipation is often remedied by discovering the cause and taking the steps to get things moving with fluids, fiber and exercise. If those practices don’t help, your elder loved one should see his or her physician. If your loved one is experiencing abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, abdominal rigidity, or fever along with constipation, these are symptoms that require immediate medical attention. Never administer a laxative when these symptoms exist, as they may be symptoms of a more severe complication.

Nightingale Homecare of Phoenix can help seniors in a variety of ways to remain healthy, such as preparing nutritious meals, encouraging participation in physician-approved exercise programs, ensuring seniors stay hydrated, providing transportation to medical appointments, and so much more. Contact us any time to learn more!