Constipation in the Elderly



By Dr. Julia Lizy, MBBS (KEMU)

Constipation in the Elderly

According to factual data, constipation, is the most common medical problem in the U.S. This prevalence of constipation increases as a person gets older.

In the U.S.A., 16% of males and 26% of females over the age of 65 are constipated. After the age of 84, these numbers rise to 26% and 34% respectively.

  1. As these figures suggest, constipation can be much more problematic for the elderly. There are multiple factors that contribute to this.

  2. Aged patients are much more sensitive to pain and discomfort.

  3. Aged patients are at a much greater risk of obstructions and perforations of the intestines.

  4. Anorexia and insomnia are more pronounced at an older age; constipation makes these worse.

  5. Constipation may lead to malnutrition due to dysphagia and anorexia.

  6. GERD and peptic ulcers caused by an obstruction in the intestines can more easily lead to gastric and esophageal cancers due to more vulnerable aged tissues.

  7. Compromised body homeostasis and a weakened immune system only add to the problem.

The possibility of severe complications like perforations and obstructions is greater in the elderly, as are the severity of primary symptoms like pain and bloating.

Therefore, the elderly should pay extra attention to both preventing and treating constipation.

beautiful day fighting constipation in the elderly

As Senior Citizens Age...

...the Likelihood of constipation in the elderly increases.

As a person ages, constipation can become more of a problem. Here are reasons why an older person is more prone to slowed bowel movements.

Muscle Weakness

Aging causes irreversible changes in the body.

Muscles throughout the body become weaker. Speech, hearing, walking, yes, almost everything is compromised. Intestinal muscles become weaker as well, causing a weakening of contractions of the bowel. This results in constipation.

Loss of Tone

As age progresses there is a decrease in the tone of muscular body parts.

This leads to atonic bowel, resulting in the pooling of the contents of the intestines. Contents stay in the colon for much longer periods than normal, which inevitably results in constipation in the elderly.

Degeneration of the Nervous System of the Gut

Our digestive system is supplied by our peripheral nervous system.

Our gut has an Intrinsic Nervous System, located in the walls of the intestines. It is made up of two divisions. One division controls the movements of the bowel, while the other division controls the secretions of the Gastro Intestinal Tract.

In older age, there is irreversible degeneration of nerve fibers because nervous tissues are not able to regenerate. This diminishing of the nervous system results in two things.

  1. There is a decrease in movements of bowel.
  2. There is a decrease in the secretions of the intestines and stomach.

Both of these conditions lead to slowed peristalsis and result is constipation.

Immobility

In older age, people exercise less, go out less and do fewer activities.

The elderly usually stay at home more or at least are not as active even when they are out. Immobility has it’s effects upon the tone of abdominal muscles.

  1. Abdominal muscles also play their role in the passage of intestinal contents through the gastro intestinal tract.

  2. The tone of the abdomen also helps the intestines function better. They exert an external pressure, which is compulsory for the proper peristalsis.

This is one of the reasons pregnant women get constipation more often; their abdominal muscles seldom exert pressure unto the bowel.

Complicating diseases

A number of diseases plague the elderly in the U.S.A. Four out of 5 Americans over the age of 50 and on the average, 5 out of 5 over the age of 70 suffer at least one of the following common diseases:

  1. Angina
  2. COPD
  3. Cirrhosis
  4. Depression
  5. Underactive thyroid
  6. Diabetes


More complications for the elderly

  1. As the elderly deal with increased issues of disease, it hinders homeostasis.
  2. Most elderly individuals are on one or more medications.
  3. As one ages, there are necessary modifications in the life style as well as one’s normal eating habits.
  4. Constipation is more painful for the elderly.

All of the above issues collectively lead to more constipation in the elderly.

Prevention and Treatment

Even though there are multiple factors that lead to constipation in the elderly, there is hope.

  1. Doctors can use caution in prescribing medications that don’t cause constipation

  2. Efforts can be made as much as possible to maintain an active life style

  3. Regular times of exercise can be added to the daily routine

  4. Care can be taken to include foods in the diet that aid in regular bowel movements

  5. Dietary supplements that cause constipation should be offset with others that prevent it

  6. Above all, taking a magnesium supplement may offset uncontrollable negatives

Using magnesium for treating constipation in elderly

Magnesium can help in multiple ways to prevent constipation in the elderly.

  • Magnesium helps to establish a good electrolyte balance of important ions in the body, contributing to the strength of bodily systems. The effect is a delay in aging and accompanying degenerative changes.

  • Use of magnesium helps the intestines maintain their secretory function and helps to support peristalsis, even when there is weakened nervous stimulation.

  • Sea minerals rich in magnesium are a good source of important cat-ions and anions in the GI tract. This leads to better absorption of food, which promotes quicker stool transit, even when muscles are weakened by older age.

  • When present, magnesium is absorbed into the luminal surface of intestines, resulting in better tone and improved bowel movements.

A better magnesium supplement

Concentrated sea minerals provide 106% of US recommended daily allowance of magnesium.

For those who don’t get enough magnesium in their diet, this can result in numerous health benefits.

Magnesium is generally safe for an older person to take. Sea minerals also provide valuable trace minerals that are no longer found in most of our diets.


Conclusion, constipation in the elderly

The elderly must take extra care to avoid constipation.

The severity of constipation symptoms increase with age
Many precipitating factors to constipation tend to add up with the progression in age.
The increased risk of painful constipation may possibly be overcome by taking a daily magnesium supplement.

(Return from constipation in the elderly to Causes of Constipation)

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