Constipation is a common complaint among the elderly. The problem increases as you get older. Older females and males aged 65 years of age and above have a constipation prevalence of 16% and 26%, respectively. With the increasing age, i.e., after 84 years, the prevalence increases to 34% for women and 26% for men.

The absence of bowel movements for three consecutive days is a topic of concern in elderly patients. As the days pass, it becomes harder to pass stool.

The common symptoms associated with constipation in the elderly are;

  • Bowel movements
  • Trouble defecating
  • Small or hard stools
  • Swollen abdomen/pain
  • Vomiting

Why does constipation happen to elderly

Older people mostly show less interest in eating fibrous food, leading to overconsumption of convenient and low fibre foods. Tooth problems or loss of teeth is another reason why the elderly avoid regular meals.

Constipation in seniors is more common because of the following reasons:

  • Increasing age: With advanced age, the body composition changes.
  • Lower intake of water.
  • Medication side effects like Pain medicines (Percocet, Oxycontin, Norco), anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and antihistamines/anti-allergic.
  • Weakened digestive system due to ageing or frailty.

Here are the other causes of constipation in the elderly that affect the body system are;

  • Heart diseases (e.g., heart failure)
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Hypokalaemia i.e., low blood potassium
  • Hypomagnesaemia i.e. increased blood magnesium
  • Hypothyroidism i.e., underactive thyroid
  • Hypercalcaemia i.e. increased blood calcium
  • Hyperparathyroidism i.e., overactive parathyroid glands, etc.

5 Ways to prevent constipation

Home-based remedies that help in preventing constipation in the elderly and help avoid the occurrence of chronic constipation are;

  • Eating habits: Ingest fibre-rich food. The essential sources of fibre are fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole-grain bread, and cereals. These dietary fibres, along with water, help clear the passage of stool from the colon. The skin of apples is rich in fibre, but it is difficult for an adult to chew it due to the loss of teeth. Strawberries that have an ample amount of seeds on their surface are also rich in fibre.

A proper blend of these fruits (apples and strawberries) can be a good source of fibre-rich fruit. Bran is also an essential source of fibre. Adding regular foods, soup, and yoghurt to bran cereals can help. Older people suffering from constipation should intake between 18 to 30 grams of fibre every day.

  • Water intake: Have 8 glasses of water per day (Milk consumption should be taken care of as it can cause constipation in some cases). Caffeinated drinks like tea and coffee can dehydrate the body and lead to frequent urination. Until constipation is resolved, one should avoid consuming caffeine products.
  • Exercise regularly: Practice sitting exercises or go on walks for proper bowel movement.
  • Dietary supplements: Dietary supplements like magnesium help pass the stool from the colon. To treat mild constipation, magnesium should be used. (It is not well accepted in all cases. You must speak to your doctor before consuming).

It’s a good idea to establish a regular washroom routine to have bowel movements to prevent constipation in older adults. Also, move to the washroom immediately without wasting any time when you feel the bowel movement coming.

5 Foods that help Cure constipation

At a certain point in life, every individual experiences constipation. Use of certain medications, no physical activity, and dehydration triggers constipation in old age. If the constipation is not treated correctly, it may lead to fissures, haemorrhoids, or even faecal incontinence ( inability to control bowel movement).

The best foods for constipation in the elderly are;

  • Beans.
  • Whole grains, especially bran.
  • Vegetables.
  • Fresh and dried fruit.
  • Nuts.
  • High-fibre foods.
  • Water — best stool softener for the elderly and stimulates the bowel.

In most cases, painful and infrequent bowel movements can be treated by eating the right foods.

1. Oatmeal:  They are rich in fibre and retain more water in the stool, thereby making the stool softer, more prominent, and easier to pass from the colon.

2. Prunes: Each prune has 1 g of fibre which is enough to relieve constipation. They also have fermentable sugars like fructans and sorbitol that exhibit laxative action.

3. Chia seeds: They are the seeds of a well-known natural plant (tulsi). The seeds are packed with omega-3 fatty acids and calcium and are a great source of fibre. It helps to pass stool if used by adding two tablespoons to smoothies, yoghurt, salad, or oatmeal.

4. Beans: More soluble and insoluble fibres are present in beans that might help the stool move through your intestines. Three servings a week of beans help to prevent constipation. 

5. Raspberries: Berries, mostly raspberries, are known to cure constipation. Eight grams of fibre can be obtained from each cup (double the amount found in strawberries).

Treatments for Constipation:

To deal with constipation in the elderly, treatment is essential to regain normal bowel habits by checking whether the passage of stool is soft and is three times a week to improve the quality of life and lower the harm to the body. Lifestyle changes are necessary such as increased physical activity, a healthy and balanced diet with enough fibre and fluid, avoiding coffee, tea, and alcohol consumption, along with adequate water consumption.

  • Besides fibre-rich foods, patients can consume fibre/bulk supplements like methylcellulose, Psyllium (isapghula husk), polycarbophil, or bran.
  • Stimulant laxatives, Osmotic laxatives, and other agents should be used.
  • Osmotic laxatives compose sorbitol, lactulose, mannitol, salts of magnesia, sulphate, phosphate, polyethylene glycol that are helpful for bowel movement.
  • Stimulant laxatives constitute – Senna, cascara and Diphenylmethane derivatives include bisacodyl that is known to be helpful with constipation.
  • Medicated enemas, phosphates, liquid paraffin, and lubricants can be used.

Others: This includes stimulation of the sacral nerve, biofeedback system, and surgery in severe cases.

For long-term wellness, it is crucial to have a healthy and balanced lifestyle to prevent a chronic illness like constipation in the elderly.

Thus, it is crucial to have a healthy lifestyle, healthy eating (fibre-rich foods), and timely treatment for constipation in the elderly from the best dermatologists in your area.

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