Constipation and the Obsession with the Bowels

There will no doubt come a time when each of your parents will become obsessed with their bowels, and life will revolve around whether or not they have had a bowel movement today and what can be done about it if they haven't. Nothing else will seem to matter until the bowels have been moved. Daily conversations will revolve around whether they were able to have a normal bowel movement today. Discomfort, constipation, gas, and indigestion will all become a major part of their vocabulary.

Constipation can cause abdominal distention due to a buildup of gas. This is uncomfortable. Passing gas can present an embarrassing moment for anyone, but older people have weaker sphincter muscles and therefore less control over when and where they release their gas.

Old people generally have fears about losing control of bodily functions, and when they can't or don't have a bowel movement at their normal time each day, they worry about having an accident.

As people age, muscle tone decreases. The intestines depend upon a series of large waves of muscular contraction to move the bodily waste along its way. When this slows down with age, daily bowel activity may slow to every other day or even every three days. This would be perfectly normal, but the average older person won't have it!

This may seem comical, but it is a fact. Almost all old people will become obsessed with their bowel movements at one time or another. Grocery shopping will become focused on bran cereals, prunes, and fiber as well as the inevitable forms of laxatives, suppositories, enemas, and antidiar-rhea medications for times when they have overdone the combinations.

Most older people consume smaller amounts of food and therefore generate smaller amounts of waste to be disposed of. They also tend to drink less water, which is needed to keep the waste softer and more mobile. When they try to fix the situation by increasing the fiber, they actually form hard waste. Compare this to making cement and you'll have a better understanding of why they are now more constipated than before.

When introducing more fiber, it is essential to increase the fluid intake. Old people generally don't like to drink liquids because it makes them have to urinate more. Frequent urination can involve other problems such as incontinence, urgency, and being up all night running to the bathroom. Diuretics that promote urination to rid the body of excess fluid have a natural side effect of causing constipation because they pull the liquid into the kidneys before it can be absorbed in the intestines. Other medications can affect the absorption of water by the intestines or slow bowel motility and cause constipation.

Older people tend to be less active physically. This inactivity tends to slow down the intestinal activity even more. Remind them to get up and walk around at least once an hour to help promote better intestinal motility.

Like most other issues, the more they worry about it, the worse the situation will get. Worrying and obsessing about constipation and bowel movements will only make the situation worse; unfortunately, obsession seems to breed obsession.

Constipation can be managed; dietary measures can help. Unless otherwise restricted because of chronic diseases such as kidney or heart disease, five or more servings of fruits and vegetables as well as plenty of noncaffeinated fluids will help establish a healthy system. Plenty of fiber from grains will help as well. Low-fat food choices will make a difference, and keeping salt to a minimum will reduce the body's temptation to retain water in the tissues of ankles and feet instead of absorbing into the intestines.

Laxatives and enemas should only be used as a last resort, as they can quickly become a habit and eventually the bowel won't work without their use. Stool softeners and fiber supplements can be used more readily but should not become a daily habit unless recommended by a physician.

Increasing activity will help as well. And finding something else to think about will reduce the obsession and stress.

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