Let’s not be squeamish…it’s time to deal with irregularity. It’s not all about eating yogurt every day!
Even though it happens in every person, seniors are most often affected by irregularity and many seem to focus their attention on their bowel movements more than they realize.
While an occasional bout of constipation is probably natural, constipation on a daily basis that requires major intervention to relieve can be causing other serious effects in seniors. Unfortunately, they may not be telling you what is going on or even admitting it to their doctors until it is too late.
Then again, it’s probably not a subject you as a caregiver are jumping up and down about discussing with them either.
What is Constipation and What Could Be Serious Consequences?
Constipation is defined as a condition which leads to difficulty having a regular bowel movement, characterized with stools that are usually hard, dry, and difficult to eliminate. Constipation is not a disease and is often temporary. It’s usually a result of a diet that doesn’t help keep the bowels running regularly and the lack of muscle power to keep the intestines moving properly.
More than 4 million people are constipated regularly with 2.5 million seeking the help of a doctor.
Symptoms of constipation can include bloating, cramps, gas, feeling of fullness, loss of appetite, and pain. Complications include hemorrhoids, tears around the rectum or anus, bleeding, loss appetite over a period of time resulting in weight loss, rectal prolapse, impaction of stool, and possible need for surgery.
Our gastrointestinal system is vital to health because what we eat is then digested and the nutrients absorbed into our bodies to fuel all of our systems. The end result is elimination of wastes that weren’t necessary.
- Drink enough water or other decaffeinated fluids throughout the day! The lack of thirst sensation in our seniors often results in drinking too little water. Many seniors are fearful of drinking too much because they may not be able to get to the bathroom fast enough and consequently stop drinking. (This is an all too frequent malady!)
- Eat more fiber! Try to eat 20-25 grams per day. Be sure to eat foods that contain fiber such as whole grain breads, cereals with 4 or more grams of fiber per serving, fresh fruit and vegetables and other sources of naturally occurring fiber. Seniors may sometimes cut down on these types of foods if they find them difficult to chew, hard to prepare or feel they cost more money on their tight budget.
- Be active! Maintaining physical activity every day will help keep all your body systems healthy and help you stay regular. Your intestines need strong muscles to do their job. Couch potatoes beware! Walking can be very beneficial for regular bowel movements.
- Include foods that aid digestion, including dried fruits such as figs, raisins and prunes; yogurt or smoothies and other probiotics; and flaxseed and psyllium.
- Your doctor may recommend a laxative, stool softener or bulking agent, but be careful to follow the directions closely. Overuse of laxatives can lead to dangerous outcomes. If you take stool softeners or fiber pills, you must drink sufficient amounts of water to process these medications or you can block yourself up. You can also become dependent on laxatives for a movement and lose your muscle tone and function. Beware also that some prescription medications can cause constipation so you may want to review that with your doctor or pharmacist.
- Go whenever you feel the urge! Don’t put off going to the bathroom when you feel a movement coming on because it can cause your bowel to have difficulty moving the stool later. You may also lose the feeling in the future to move your bowels if you routinely ignore the urge.
- Know your own pattern. You may go daily or not for three days. Each of these is normal for different people. Be alert to changes in your normal pattern. If you don’t eat enough substantial food to digest and excrete, you may not have enough bulk to expel – nothing in, nothing out.
- Discuss your bowel pattern with your physician including signs of hemorrhoids, discolored stools or pain in your abdomen.
Like so many health ailments and effects of aging, prevention is the best medicine. Sometimes prevention strategies don’t keep our bowels running smoothly and we may need treatment from our doctor. Don’t be shy, or worse yet, embarrassed to discuss your bowel movements with your healthcare professional.
Caregivers, you may need to encourage your senior loved one to talk freely about it with you and the doctor for the improvement of their overall health.
Do you have some tips that will help others?