Constipation and Aging—Everything Seniors Should Know
There are so many different health complications that seniors need to deal with as they age. One of the most common unfortunately is constipation. While this can be a delicate topic and one that is difficult to discuss, it is one that is very important for seniors to be fully informed about, especially as they age. While some elderly adults simply think that bowel issues are part of the aging process, constipation is not normal and should be treated accordingly.
If constipation is not treated in a timely manner, it can cause more than mild discomfort. This includes substantial problems such as:
- Extreme irritability, which may even be mistaken for dementia or early Alzheimer’s
- Severe abdominal pain that can impact a senior’s quality of life or cause hospitalization
- Hemorrhoids which can be painful and cause bleeding
- Aggression in certain seniors, especially those that already have signs of dementia
- Extreme stress that can lead to delirium
- Fecal incontinence
- Avoiding medications, including pain medication due to fear of constipation
Constipation issues should not be taken lightly. So, the first thing that seniors should do is talk to their healthcare provider about their issues. While there are some over-the-counter laxatives and treatments available, these are not going to get to the root of the issue and determine what is causing regular constipation issues. The right healthcare provider will not only help prescribe something to treat constipation, but help make sure that these issues don’t return again in the future.
Common causes of constipation include opioid pain killers, dietary changes, diuretics, calcium supplements, iron supplements, lack of physical activity and more. A senior’s doctor may also look at potential medications that are causing issues with constipation and determine if those medications can be changed or alter to prevent chronic issues from occurring.
Some of the most common causes of constipation in older adults include the following:
- Side effects from medication
- Insufficient fiber in the diet
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Nerve issues
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Pelvic floor issues
- Depression or anxiety obstructions
It can be difficult for seniors to want to talk about constipation or to feel comfortable enough discussing it with their caregivers, healthcare providers or loved ones. However, seniors need to understand that constipation isn’t normal and it should be treated right away to prevent further issues from happening. Seniors should feel comfortable enough with their health care provider to not only talk about potential treatments for their constipation but to discuss dietary and lifestyle changes that can actually help prevent constipation issues from forming in the first place.
- Kimberly Langdon M.D. is a retired, board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist with 19-years of clinical experience. She graduated from The Ohio State University College of Medicine earning Honors in many rotations. She then completed her OB/GYN residency program at The Ohio State University Medical Center, earning first-place for her senior research project and placed in the 98th percentile on the national exam for OB/GYN residents in the U.S..
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