One of the most common problems among older people is constipation. We give you guidelines that will help you prevent or reverse its effects, and how you should vary your diet to improve your intestinal transit.
Constipation in people over 60 years old
Constipation is considered a geriatric syndrome due to the high percentage of elderly people who suffer from it. It is not a disease, but it is a symptom that the intestinal function is not adequate; however, it is not usually treated properly because those over 60 years consider this alteration in their intestinal transit normal, and try to solve it themselves or do not consult their doctor.
In fact, it is estimated that between 30% and 50% of older adults have ever self-medicated or do so frequently, to evacuate more normally.
What is constipation among the elderly?
Constipation arises when the bowel mobility involved in the evacuation of faeces is reduced, which is very common in older people. As a result, defecation is infrequent or a great deal of effort is required for bowel movements.
There is no specific parameter established to indicate precisely when you suffer from constipation, since it depends on each person, but as a general rule is considered to have this problem when you go to the bathroom less than three times a week.
Constipation should also be considered if it is common for stools to be very hard and small and for bowel movements to cause pain.
When any of these problems appear when you reach old age or are combined, you should go to the doctor to look for a solution, and not try to treat it on your own because, in addition to aggravating the problem, self-medication can be dangerous and affect other areas of health.
Constipation should also not be avoided because not evacuating with adequate frequency can lead to hemorrhoids, intestinal pain, and even the formation of a tumor in the colon. Therefore, it is important that you know the causes that lead to its appearance to be able to anticipate, and what options you have at your disposal to combat constipation and improve your intestinal transit.
Causes of constipation in old age
Behind a problem of constipation there can be many factors, which in the case of people over 60 are often combined, which aggravates the alteration. Among the most common causes of constipation in old age are:
Lack of mobility and physical exercise
Sedentary lifestyle is one of the reasons for constipation, as it makes digestion difficult and reduces the rate of bowel movement. Older people with reduced mobility suffer much more from this problem.
People who follow some pharmacological treatment, and even more so when they are polymedicated, as is usually the case among older adults, are more likely to suffer from constipation.
Among them are some used for hypertension, asthma, calcium supplements, anti-inflammatories, or antihistamines. If it is difficult to evacuate, it should be the doctor who indicates the guidelines to be followed, it should never be the patient who makes decisions about the administration of drugs without prior consultation with the doctor.
Suffering from certain illnesses
In addition to pathologies that entail a lack of mobility, problems such as inflammation of the intestine, the appearance of a tumour or even some psychological alteration, can directly affect the act of defecating.
Difficulties in chewing and swallowing, not having the capacity to cook, not having the resources to eat properly, neglect, loss of taste or eating a diet based on processed and precooked products are some of the factors that can cause an elderly person to have a bad diet and, as a consequence, have an irregular intestinal transit and suffer constipation.
As the years go by, the perception of thirst is lost, which leads many older people to drink very little water. Not drinking enough liquid makes it difficult to form faeces or makes them too hard to evacuate properly.
Self-medication for constipation
It is very common, not only among the elderly, but in the entire population, that when you have trouble evacuating, you take laxatives on your own. The truth is that they solve the problem in the short term, but a bad consumption of them, without proper control, in the medium term leads to a lack of effectiveness that leads to more severe constipation.
In addition, this self-medication in people who follow other pharmacological treatments, such as geriatric patients, can be dangerous, as it can interact with them or reduce their effectiveness.
A bad defecatory habit
Not going to the bathroom when you feel like it can lead to constipation in the long run. In people with reduced mobility is a very common act.
Changes in routines
Especially older people who from time to time move house to be with their children, are frequently hospitalized, or are forced to change their schedules, often have constipation.