While constipation is a concern for any and all, it is especially prevalent in both the very young and the elderly. As with toddlers and small children, the consequences for not treating constipation for the elderly can be very severe. While the body can sustain longer periods without a bowel movement during early to mid adulthood, the very early and latter stages of life are a different matter.
Constipation in the elderly can be more severe than simple hemorrhoids, hernia, and laxative dependence (a condition in which you have to take more and more of a laxative in order to have a normal bowel movement). Straining with a bowel movement when aged 55 or more can cause a prolapsed uterus where the organ turns outward and requires medical attention.
The same problem can occur as a result of constipation in the rectum in both sexes, also requiring immediate medical attention. A very painful testicular form of swelling known as Hydrocele can afflict men who do not treat constipation. Chronic and untreated constipation in the elderly can lead to urinary incontinence and the need to use a catheter if straining breaks down muscles.
Treatment and Prevention of Constipation in Elderly
Preventing constipation can be as simple as making sure any medications being taken do not cause constipation. Medications known to be associated with constipation include painkillers that contain codeine or hydrocodone (such as Vicodin), antidepressants, antacids that contain aluminum, iron supplements, and some drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease.
It is also important to remain completely hydrated so stool remains soft and has less problem moving through the gastrointestinal tract. The muscles in the colon and intestines may weaken with age making it harder to pass stool through the body. Therefore, it is important to drink plenty of fluids every day to make sure the stool is soft and can pass through the colon and rectum easier. Dehydration can cause especially severe constipation in the elderly and cause very painful bowel movements. Drinking ½ ounce of water for every pound of body weight is a good formula for ensuring proper hydration.
Fiber should be essential to everyone’s diet but it is especially critical in the elderly as it softens stool and helps stool pass through the gastrointestinal tract easier. Fiber from fruits and vegetables is always more beneficial than any fiber supplements. That’s because fruits and vegetables offer fiber in small doses. Fiber supplements should be initiated at the smallest possible dose and only after consulting with a physician. It’s better to build up to taking enough fiber to increase regularity. Soluble fiber relieves constipation slower than insoluble fiber but both are effective treatment options with chronic constipation problems.
Certain foods contain substances other than fiber that relieve constipation. The best-known food remedy from chronic constipation is prunes which contain sorbitol and other sugars. As the sugars dissolve in the intestines, they draw water into the lumen, or central cavity, and help to soften stool making it easier to vacate from the body.
Experts advise that one of the best ways to establish regularity is to set aside a normal routine for bowel movements following meals. When troubled by constipation, it is sometimes best to attempt a bowel movement after breakfast. In addition, it is a good idea to cleanse the colon and gastrointestinal tract every few months to remove any feces that may be stuck to the sides of the intestines, colon, or rectum. These feces may lead to blockages and severe constipation. Be certain to use a colon cleanser made from all natural products as they are less likely to cause side effects or dehydration like products made from harsh chemicals.