Constipation in Elderly

By Fritz Mequiabas, RN,  BSN

Constipation in elderly

Over 2.5 million people go to the doctor each year to get help with constipation. 

Most of these patients are the elderly. According to a study, nearly 26% of elderly men and 34% of elderly women are constipated from time to time

Most of the time this constipation is not serious and can be easily treated.

Reasons for Constipation

in the Elderly

Constipation is not a disease, but a symptom that is usually caused by the following.

  • As a individual ages, the digestive system becomes sluggish, causing food to pass more slowly through the digestive tract.

    One of the colon’s jobs is to extract moisture to turn a slurry into a more solid stool. When food spends more time in the colon, more water is extracted, making stools dry and hard, and difficult to pass.

  • As people become less active they become more prone to constipation.

  • As people age, their diet tends to change to food items that are more easily chewed and swallowed. They eat less fiber rich foods and more fast foods and carbs. Less fiber means more constipation.

  • Constipation in the elderly is a side effect of numerous medicines and medications

  • Some medical conditions, which become more prevalent in the elderly, can cause constipation. 

  • Elderly individuals who are prescribed with calcium channel blockers or narcotic pain relievers often experience constipation because the drug itself has a direct effect on the bowel.

  • If the elderly have a diverticular disease, ulcers, polyps, esophageal disease or GERD, the movement  of stool through the bowel is adversely affected.

    In such cases, doctors will prescribe laxatives to help ease the constipation. 

How to Prevent Constipation in Elderly

People who are constipated usually strain during bowel movements.

This straining may result in hemorrhoids and anal fissures, which can be painful.

Here are some tips prevent or relieve constipation in the elderly.

Modify your diet

A diet rich in fiber helps to bulk up stools, which is necessary for peristalsis, the wave-like contractions, to be effective.

There are some foods that help to ease constipation, and some foods that tend to cause it.

Eating a more friendly diet can ease the straining during bowel movements.

This diet should include fruits, vegetables (especially green leafy veggies), seeds, nuts, beans, whole grain products and bran cereals. Most of these items are also high in nutritional value.

tea constipation in elderly

Drink plenty of fluids

Dehydration is a major cause of constipation.

When the body is dehydrated, it will pull excessive moisture from stool to use elsewhere. This results in dry, hard stool.

Drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water each day can help prevent dehydration and thereby alleviate constipation.

This is especially important for elderly patients who are taking maintenance medications.  

Take a magnesium supplement

Taking a daily magnesium supplement can be an effective remedy for constipation in the elderly. 

  • Magnesium is a natural osmotic laxative that draws water into the colon resulting in a moist stool.

  • A moist stool is soft and slippery, which can result in effortless elimination.

  • Moist stools are more bulky, which can stimulate peristalsis.

  • Magnesium is known as the relaxant mineral. It relaxes the smooth muscles of the gastrointestinal tract, balancing out the tightening effect of calcium in the diet.

  • Since 80% of Americans don’t get enough magnesium in their diet, taking a magnesium supplement may result in numerous health benefits.

    For an individual weighing 150 to 160 pounds, the normal recommended dose is 150 to 300 mg. per day.

If you have a kidney disease, do not take supplemental magnesium unless advised to do so by your doctor.

Get regular exercise

Staying active will improve the sluggish digestive system and promote regular bowel movements.

This is especially important for seniors.

Even a short daily walk is beneficial.

Check your medications

Talk to your doctor if you think your medications are causing constipation.

There may be similar medications available that don’t have this side effect. 

Undergo a regular health screening

Constipation may signal an underlying health condition.

A regular physical exam may be able to catch a problem before it gets out of hand.

Constipation in the Elderly - The Conclusion

Constipation is not considered to be a serious medical condition.

However, if it is allowed to become chronic in nature, it may lead to more serious problems. If you are doing all you know to do but find that constipation persists, please talk to your doctor.

(Return from Constipation in Elderly to Causes of Constipation)

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