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How can I help an elderly loved one with constipation or diarrhea?

Anne Fabiny
Geriatric Medicine
If constipation or diarrhea occurs regularly, discuss it with a doctor who can make a proper diagnosis and suggest appropriate treatment for your elderly loved one. But you might wish to try the following tips first.

For constipation, add dietary fiber (good sources include bran cereals, uncooked fruits and vegetables, and whole-grain breads) or fiber supplements such as psyllium powder (Metamucil or Konsyl, for example) if necessary. Increase intake of water or other fluids. Also encourage the person you're caring for to add any sort of exercise possible; engaging in virtually any motion instead of being sedentary will help.

Stool softeners may be helpful, although regular use can contribute to nutritional deficits. Urge the person you are caring for to use the toilet when the urge strikes, rather than trying to hold back. A routine may help, too.

If loose stools are a problem, add dietary fiber to produce firmer stools. Specific foods can trigger diarrhea in some people. Try eliminating caffeine, cured or smoked meats, spicy foods, alcohol, dairy products, sweeteners (particularly sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol), and fatty and greasy foods from the diet. Diarrhea can cause dehydration -- a serious health problem -- so encourage the person to drink lots of water. It may help to have liquids 30 minutes before or after meals rather than with meals, though, since fluid speeds the passage of food through the digestive tract. And if dairy products frequently trigger diarrhea, trying lactase tablets or lactose-reduced or lactose-free products may help. Also, make sure a commode is handy if getting to the bathroom quickly is hard.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.