Constipation is a common problem among seniors
Constipation — it’s never fun to talk about. Still, it’s a very common problem that affects people of many ages, especially seniors. DispatchHealth is here to help. We are an on-demand healthcare provider that delivers outstanding medical care to people in the comfort and familiarity of their own homes. Our medical teams — which include a nurse practitioner or physician assistant, DispatchHealth medical technician (DHMT), and an emergency room (ER) physician who is available by phone — can address many of the same non-life-threatening health issues as an ER, but at a small fraction of the cost.
If you have an elderly loved one who requires timely medical attention for acute or chronic constipation, you can swiftly request care via phone, mobile app, or on our website and a fully equipped medical team will arrive at your doorstep in a matter of hours. After we provide appropriate treatment, we’ll send a detailed medical report to your loved one’s primary care physician or assisted living facility to help ensure continuity of care.
If this is an emergency, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.
When to seek treatment for constipation
It’s not unusual to experience infrequent or difficult bowel movements every now and then. Bowel habits can be affected by all sorts of factors, from diet and activity levels to stress and anxiety. However, if your loved one has fewer than three bowel movements a week, constipation treatment from a medical professional is warranted. Additionally, seek prompt medical care if constipation is accompanied by:
- Pencil-thin or bloody stool
- Severe discomfort
- Difficulty passing gas
- Unexplained weight loss
What causes constipation in seniors?
There are several factors that can cause constipation in people of all ages. Irritable bowel syndrome, malnutrition, periods of stress, eating too much dairy, and a lack of dietary fiber are all common culprits. Your elderly loved one’s symptoms could be traced to these factors, as well as other things like:
- Medical conditions. Constipation is a symptom of many medical conditions that are common among seniors, including diabetes, multiple sclerosis, anal fissures, Parkinson’s disease, diverticulitis, dementia, neuropathy, and several other diseases and disorders.
- Medication. Bowel problems are an unfortunate side effect of medications that seniors often rely on to manage various medical conditions. Constipation is commonly linked to opioid pain relievers, antidepressants, NSAIDs, beta blockers, and iron supplements, along with several other medications that are used to treat high blood pressure and urinary incontinence.
- Dehydration. Oddly enough, the sensation of thirst slowly diminishes with age. This means seniors may not feel prompted to drink water as often as they should, potentially leading to dehydration and subsequent constipation.
- Lack of exercise. Long periods of inactivity can slow the digestive process and cause stool to harden, making it more difficult to pass. Because of this, seniors who don’t exercise enough are at a higher risk of becoming constipated.
- Poor bathroom habits. Seniors who require help when using the restroom or live in assisted living facilities where they feel uncomfortable may ignore the urge to have a bowel movement. This may seem like an innocent habit, but holding it in for too long can contribute to constipation and trigger other digestive complications.
How to help prevent constipation in seniors
Considering all the many factors that can contribute to constipation, it’s important to take a preventive approach to your elderly loved one’s digestive health. Constipation may not be entirely preventable, but taking the following measures can promote healthy bowels and help your loved one feel his or her best:
- Eat smart. Limit dairy and refined grains, and try including more beans, nuts, whole grains, and vegetables in your loved one’s diet.
- Try a daily fiber supplement. Dissolvable fiber supplements can be added to your loved one’s beverage to promote digestive regularity.
- Get on the move. With a physician’s guidance, encourage your loved one to move around as much as safely possible. Brief walks in comfortable shoes, swimming, and water aerobics are low-impact ways to stay active and help regulate the digestive system.
- Carefully monitor laxative use. Laxatives are often used to treat constipation, but taking them too often or incorrectly can make symptoms worse.
- Establish a routine bathroom time. Have a few set times each day for your loved one to at least try to use the bathroom, and encourage them to promptly use the bathroom whenever they feel the urge.
- Encourage conversation. Stress and anxiety can lead to digestive discomfort and make constipation worse. If your loved one seems sad or worried, start a conversation and try to help them cope with their emotions. Be sure to consult a physician if stress or anxiety does not improve or begins to worsen.
If constipation is left untreated
It’s important for seniors to promptly seek treatment if they experience prolonged periods of constipation. If constipation is left unaddressed, discomfort will likely worsen and several unpleasant complications could develop that warrant more extensive treatment. Possible complications include hemorrhoids (swollen veins in the anus), fecal impaction (stool that cannot be passed), anal fissures (torn anal skin), and rectal prolapse (intestine that protrudes from the anus).
Caring for a senior can sometimes feel overwhelming, especially when he or she isn’t feeling well. DispatchHealth understands — that’s why our professionals are here to be your partner in caregiving. By calling on our qualified medical team, your elderly loved one will be able to receive constipation treatment without leaving the comfort of his or her home. We can also provide care for chronic conditions that may be at the root of constipation and provide expert advice on how to manage symptoms going forward. Additionally, you’ll gain peace of mind knowing that your loved one won’t be forced to travel to a crowded urgent care clinic or ER while feeling unwell.
Getting in touch with us is easy; request care via our app, online, or over the phone today to have a medical team at your doorstep within a few hours.
Medically reviewed by Dr. Phil Mitchell MD, MS on October 3rd, 2019