Treating Chronic Constipation In The Elderly


Chronic constipation is a disorder of the gastrointestinal tract that affects 15 to 20 percent of elderly people, according to an article in “Drugs Aging,” a Swiss medical journal. The Mayo Clinic defines constipation as having less than three bowel movements in 7 days. There are many causes for constipation for the elderly. The “Drug Aging” article states that in the elderly, “constipation results from a combination of risk factors, such as reduced fibre and fluid intake, decreased physical activity resulting from chronic diseases and multiple medications.” Treatment takes many forms–diet changes, more physical activity and medications.

Treating with Diet Changes

When constipated, a person has dry, hard stools. There may also be straining during a bowel movement. One of the easiest ways to combat chronic constipation is to drink more liquids every day. Eight to 10 glasses of water, fruit or vegetable juices will help to soften the hard stools. One well-known natural laxative is prune juice. Adding more fiber to the diet will also help to relieve constipation. High-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains will add bulk to bodily wastes and make it easier for them to pass through the colon. According to the Mayo Clinic, “A diet with at least 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day helps your body form soft, bulky stool.” Physical activity also helps with the elimination process. Exercising frequently will stimulate the intestinal tract. Walking and swimming are two low-impact exercises that many older people can do. Yoga and T’ai Chi are also possibilities. Both are gentle enough for the elderly. Special exercise classes for elderly people are available at many senior centers.

Treating with Medication and Supplements

Herbal colon cleaners are a useful supplement. These provide a gentle way to clean out the colon and relieve constipation. If taken regularly, these colon cleaners can eliminate chronic constipation. But in many cases, diet changes and supplements are not enough. In “Drug Aging,” the researchers say that “adherence to these measures is limited and pharmacological treatment is frequently required.” There are many over-the-counter medications that treat chronic constipation in the elderly. These products have many names–laxatives, suppositories and stool softeners, among others. These drugs work in a few ways. Some bring about muscle contractions in the intestines; others soften the stool. For elderly people, “Drugs Aging” recommends “bulk-forming and osmotic laxatives” as the first pharmacological treatment. Two bulk-forming laxatives are Metamucil and FiberCon, which add fiber to the body. According to the Mayo Clinic, “osmotics help fluids to move through the colon. Examples include Cephulac, Sorbitol and Miralax.”

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