Senior Digestive Health

Senior Digestive Health

Many systems of the body change with age, including the digestive system. It’s estimated that 40% of seniors experience digestive changes. 1 Many factors impact bowel health and result in constipation including age, medical conditions, poor diet, medications, lack of fiber, inadequate exercise and frequent laxative use. Constipation or diarrhea, a common complaint for seniors, is a symptom the body sends indicating that something is not right.3

What is Constipation?  Simply stated, constipation is infrequent stool elimination. After eating, food is passed through the intestines by a rhythmic, wavelike movement called peristalsis. Intestinal contraction and rest allows food and liquid to be mixed together and propels fecal matter through the digestive tract for elimination. 4 Humans are creatures of habit, and bowel habits will vary. Bowel movements from 3 times per day to once every other day can be considered “normal”. Infrequent stools become hard, difficult to pass, and can cause damage to the nerves and muscles in the rectal area.4

Why are seniors more likely to suffer from constipation?  Aging can weaken muscles in the bowel and abdomen. Muscle contractions are necessary to move food and waste products through the digestive tract. When this process slows, more water is absorbed from the food waste resulting in hard, difficult to pass stool. 1 Nerves may function less effectively and bowel tissue can lose the ability to stretch also making stool more difficult to pass. 5 Seniors dealing with mobility issues or conditions requiring bedrest face changes in bowel habits resulting from inactivity. Disease processes such as Parkinson’s, endocrine disorders, diabetes mellitus, or stroke are also associated with constipation.7

Does diet play a role?  Poor diet or lack of adequate hydration and fiber can play a significant role in the development of constipation. Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Adding fiber to your diet softens and adds weight to food waste, resulting in bulky, easy to pass stool. Consuming “fast” food or heavily processed food can lead to constipation since these foods are usually lacking in fiber, which is vital for bowel health.3 Healthy diets should contain about 25-30 grams of fiber daily. Adequate fluid intake keeps stool soft and easy to pass. Consuming 8 glasses of water per day can decrease the likelihood of constipation. 6 Adequate fiber and fluid intake may be difficult to achieve in the senior population without assistance from caregivers to promote a healthy diet.2

Do medications play a role?  Opioid pain medications, antacids with calcium, antidepressants, iron supplements, anti-parkinsonian drugs, diuretics and antispasmodics are some of the medications that can result in constipation. Many of these medications are necessary for the health of seniors and their use cannot be avoided.6

Won’t laxatives fix the problem? Laxatives may be used to relieve occasional constipation. Overuse of laxatives to treat constipation may result in poor tone in the intestinal muscles. These muscles become “lazy” and unable to function independently. 2 Americans spend nearly $22 million on laxatives each year. Overall cost to treat constipation is estimated to be $1 billion dollars annually.2

What is your normal?  Bowel movements give significant insight to overall health status. The Bristol Stool chart is an easy to use guide to determine how “normal” you are. Types 3, 4 or 5 are considered normal. Sudden changes in bowel habits not associated with factors known to cause constipation can be indicators of serious health concerns.4

DermaRite FiberHeal™ Liquid Fiber assists in maintaining good bowel health. It combines the stool-softening effects of fiber with all-natural sorbitol, which aids in gentle elimination without diarrhea. FiberHeal has the added benefit of FOS (fructooligosaccharides) to promote the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria. As part of a healthy diet, FiberHeal helps maintain regularity, reducing dependence on harsh laxatives, and helps maintain lower cholesterol levels and supports blood sugar control. FiberHeal provides 15 grams of fiber in a great tasting one ounce dose. The sugar-, lactose- and gluten-free formula is compatible with most diets.


  1. Aging and Digestive Health. Retrieved January 18, 2017, from
  2. Evaluating and Managing Constipation in the Elderly, David A. Ginsberg, MD; Sidney F. Phillips, MD; Joyce Wallace, MSN, CRNP, APRN-BC; Karen L. Josephson, MD Urol Nurs. 2007;27(3):191-200, 212.
  3. Did everything come out okay? Senior bowel issues. Retrieved January 18, 2017, from
  6. Cashin-Garbutt, A. (2013, March 20). Drugs that Cause Constipation. Retrieved January 18, 2017, from
  7. Constipation in the Elderly. Retrieved January 18, 2017, from

Deeper Dive

Want to learn more about this topic? In addition to the reference links above, here are some great articles and resources that you can explore.

  1. Gainer, C. Bowel Habits and Aging. Retrieved January 30, 2017, from
  2. Strategies for Establishing Bowel Control. Retrieved January 30, 2017, from
  3. Constipation And Laxatives – Are You Aware of the Dangers? Retrieved January 30, 2017, from
  4. Bostock,N., Kelly, A., (2011) Help for people who care for someone with bladder or bowel problems. Retrieved January 20, 2017 Department of Health and Aging website:
Posted in Articles, Clinical Insights Newsletter
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