When your elderly loved one needs medical care for diarrhea
Diarrhea is the frequent passage of loose, watery, stools three or more times in one day. It can affect people of all ages. An episode usually lasts about one or two days, and, typically, goes away on its own. Seniors are no more susceptible to diarrhea than others, but may sometimes require medical care when afflicted. If you think that’s the case with your elderly loved one, you should know that DispatchHealth provides medical care for non-life-threatening conditions that’s far more private and convenient than an emergency room or urgent care clinic. We can come to your loved one’s home to administer safe and effective diarrhea treatment that restores his or her comfort and allows a confident return to daily life.
If this is an emergency, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.
Diarrhea symptoms & when to seek treatment
In addition to watery stools, the most common signs of diarrhea include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Abdominal pain
- The urgent need to have a bowel movement
- Mucus in the stool
If a virus or bacteria is the cause of diarrhea, it can also be accompanied by:
- Bloody stools
If your elderly loved one’s diarrhea symptoms last more than a few days, it may be time to seek professional medical care.
Causes of diarrhea in seniors
The most common causes of diarrhea are:
- Viral infections – Viruses that cause diarrhea include rotavirus, norovirus, and adenovirus. The highly contagious norovirus is the most common cause of diarrhea epidemics, such as those that occur on cruise ships, and at nursing homes, schools, and daycare facilities.
- Bacteria and parasites – Food or water contaminated with bacteria and parasites can cause infectious diarrhea, also known as traveler’s diarrhea since it’s common among people traveling to developing countries.
- Medications – Some medications can upset the gastrointestinal tract and cause diarrhea — for example, antibiotics, which disturb the natural balance of intestinal bacteria. Other medications that can lead to diarrhea are cancer drugs and antacids with magnesium.
- Lactose intolerance – Some people who have difficulty digesting lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products, can experience diarrhea after consuming them. Lactose intolerance can worsen with age due to lower levels of the enzyme that helps digest lactose.
- Digestive disorders – Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and celiac disease are among the illnesses associated with chronic diarrhea.
How to prevent diarrhea in seniors
Fortunately, viral diarrhea can be prevented by handwashing. Your elderly loved one can follow these simple steps to ensure adequate protection:
- Wash frequently – Wash hands after using the toilet, sneezing, coughing, blowing one’s nose, before and after preparing food, and after handling uncooked meat.
- Lather with soap – Rub hands together for at least 20 seconds to develop a good lather. This about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
- Use a hand sanitizer – When washing isn’t possible, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Make sure to cover the front and back of both hands.
If traveling to developing countries, seniors should take the following precautions:
- Drink only bottled water
- Avoid ice made with tap water
- Avoid eating food from street vendors
- Eat only fruits or vegetables that are peeled or cooked
- Avoid raw or undercooked seafood or meat
If left untreated
In most cases, diarrhea can be treated at home with plenty of liquids to replace lost fluids and electrolytes. The BRAT diet — bananas, rice, apple sauce, and toast — can also help ease symptoms. Potatoes, peanut butter, and skinless chicken or turkey are also other good food choices. (While recovering, avoid foods that can make diarrhea worse, such as raw fruits and vegetables, spicy foods, beans, or cabbage.) Depending on the cause of the diarrhea, over-the-counter antidiarrheal medications may also provide symptom relief, but seniors should consult their doctor before taking any of these drugs.
If left untreated, diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which can be life-threatening, particularly in seniors with weakened immune systems. If your elderly loved one has diarrhea, be watchful for signs of dehydration such as:
- Little or no urination
- Dark urine
- Dry mouth or skin
- Weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness
- Difficulty speaking
Other complications are severe abdominal or rectal pain, a fever of 102 degrees or higher, black, tarry stools, or stools that contain blood or pus.
If you notice any of these complications or any sign of dehydration, seek medical care immediately.
Help from mobile healthcare professionals
It’s safe to say that seniors who need prompt medical attention for persistent symptoms of diarrhea would rather avoid traveling to an emergency room. When you consider the unpredictable nature of the condition and the potentially long wait time at the ER, it’s easy to understand why treatment at home is much more preferable. That’s where DispatchHealth comes in. We are a qualified team of medical professionals who can be at your elderly loved one’s doorstep within two hours after you contact us. We are equipped with all the medical tools and supplies to treat a wide variety of conditions, including diarrhea. We can administer IV fluids, test electrolyte levels, and provide nausea or pain medication to keep your loved as comfortable as possible while on the way to a full recovery. To give you even more peace of mind, we’ve partnered with major insurance companies to make our advanced medical care affordable. You can contact us via our website, our mobile app, or by phone seven days a week, 365 days a year, including holidays.