Senior Citizens and Constipation

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Published: 27th October 2009
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Although everyone experiences constipation at times, senior citizens tend to experience it more often. Constipation specifically describes a symptom of some underlying cause characterized by less frequent bowel movements, more time required to pass stool, and harder stool. Regularity is different for everyone, so people should not be too concerned about having a certain number of bowel movements in a certain time period.



Senior citizens suffering from constipation should consider the following questions:

* Do you often have less than three BMs a week?

* Do you find it difficult to pass stool?

* Are your stools lumpy and hard?

* Do you have the feeling of being blocked or that you have not emptied your bowels?



Answering yes to one or more of these questions could indicate an issue with constipation.



Causes



Senior citizens and their caregivers should consider what might be contributing to their symptoms so that they can take the appropriate measures to address the problem. People typically experience constipation for the following reasons:

* Diet: If you are not eating enough high-fiber foods or eating too much high-fat meats, dairy, eggs, or sugary foods, this can cause constipation. Senior citizens may be more prone to becoming constipated for this reason, since cooking for fewer people may lead to eating more pre-made, less nutritious foods. Also, senior citizens with teeth problems may feel they have difficulty maintaining a diverse, fiber-rich diet. It is also important that senior citizens remain hydrated and drink plenty of fluids, which can prevent constipation. Caregivers should encourage healthy eating practices by preparing nutritious, well-balanced meals. Also, caregivers should remind their patients to take in sufficient fluids by providing them with juice and water throughout the day.

* Using too many laxatives and enemas: Although many people think that laxatives are a cure for constipation, the effect they have on the body works in the opposite way. In simple terms, using laxatives causes the body to think that it needs laxatives to have a normal bowel movement and leading to more constipation when not taking laxatives.

* Lack of exercise: Inactivity or spending large amounts of time in bed or a chair for recovery from medical procedures can result in constipation. Since we often become less active with age, this is also likely to contribute to constipation in senior citizens. Still, it is important that senior citizens maintain an appropriate level of physical activity. Caregivers can encourage this with simple activities like going on walks with their patient.

* Holding back bowel movements: If someone prefers to have a BM at home or holds back the urge, this can eventually lead to constipation.

* Medical conditions: Some underlying causes of constipation include stroke, diabetes, blockage in the intestines, or a more specific disorder called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) characterized by pain, bloating, and constipation or diarrhea.

* Medications: Some drugs that treat depression, antacids containing calcium or aluminum, iron supplements, allergy medications, certain painkillers, some high blood pressure medications, diuretics, and some drugs used to treat Parkinson's disease can cause constipation.



Treatment



There are simple changes in diet and physical activity that can help treat constipation. It is important that caregivers facilitate and encourage these changes.

* Eating more foods with fiber like fresh or dried fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain cereals.

* You can add a small amount of brain to baked goods, cereal, or fruit that you consume that may not have much fiber naturally. Although changing the amount of fiber in your diet may cause some bloating and gas at first, the body will adapt. You can use fiber products like psyllium seed which is sold in grocery stores.

* Drinking at least three 12-oz servings of water or juice everyday can prevent constipation.

* Participate in a healthy amount of physical activity.



If symptoms associated with constipation are severe, it may be necessary to talk to a doctor. You should seek medical attention if bowel habits change, if you find blood in the stool, you have serious stomach pains, you experience weight loss without trying, or fiber and exercise do not help with constipation.

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