Constipation is a frequent problem among the elderly and while it is generally mild or moderate, in its severe form, it can require hospitalization and/or surgery. While many laxatives and stool softeners are available to help, these do not deal with the root causes of the problem. Additionally, long-term or overuse of laxatives in particular can cause constipation to become more acute.
Although it is topic that isn’t often discussed, we wanted to share a bit of information on how family caregivers can help their aging loved ones who experience constipation. Warren Home Care Assistance presents a few simple lifestyle changes that can help treat the problem without medications:
- High Fiber Diet – Encourage your loved one to eat a diet that is high in fiber, as this will help with overall digestion and lead to regular bowel movements. Good high-fiber options for the elderly include bran cereal or muffins, oatmeal, fresh fruits and fresh vegetables, as well as whole-grain dishes like whole-wheat pasta or bread. You can also increase the fiber in the diet with products like Bene-fiber that can be sprinkled onto food and is tasteless and does not change the food’s texture. A fiber-rich diet is one of the best defenses against constipation and will also reduce the risk of colon cancer.
- Hydration – The act of digestion uses a lot of water as it processes the food while it travels through the gastrointestinal tract. If a person is poorly hydrated, there is not enough water to digest properly and stools can become hard and difficult to pass. If you can encourage your loved one to drink more water, their digestive system will work more efficiently and bowel movements will not be as difficult or painful. Also encourage your loved one to drink prune juice as this will add to both their fluid and fiber intake, and it is one of the best and most effective natural treatments for irregular bowel movements.
- Activity – Peristalsis is the term used to describe the way the muscles of the digestive tract move food through from the mouth to the colon. Exercise and activity increases peristalsis and thus moves the food through the digestive system more quickly and efficiently, and also decreases the chances of developing constipation. Encourage your loved one to exercise regularly and to not sit or stay in bed for long periods of time to help promote the digestive process.
Constipation is a common problem and should be taken seriously. However, even small changes in diet, hydration and energy level can bring large benefits and can keep your loved one from the discomfort and frustration that constipation can bring.
For more information about senior health and wellness, contact Home Care Assistance of Warren today. We provide in-home care and specialize in Parkinson’s, stroke, Alzheimer’s and Dementia care for Warren seniors. To learn more about our services, call 908-450-9400 and speak with a friendly Care Manager today.