CONSTIPATION IN ELDERLY: 4 ASPECTS THAT AFFECT DIGESTION
- Medically reviewed by: Horia Marculescu, MD
- Photo credits: Licenses / Author
- Last updated: 27.07.2021
A diet rich in nutrients is the best way to relieve constipation in elderly.
The quality of food is very important when trying to relieve constipation in elderly on long-term. As time passes, our diet should not be reduced in quantity or quality. It should be rich in nutrients and vitamins because it`s easier to for digestion to assimilate them in large quantities.
The misleading idea that as we get older, we should eat less, only applies if the nature of the food is doubtful or rich in sugar. Fruits, vegetables, fiber, and proteins are vital to our overall health and tonus.
Here are a few of the most important aspects of digestion, diet, food assimilation and how all of them affect constipation in elderly:
1. Food, taste and smell
As years go by, elderly tend to have their taste buds atrophied little by little. As a result, the taste starts to be less felt. This is a major problem for elderly people because it takes away one of the few pleasures of life which is: eating tasty foods. Atrophied taste buds make us use excessive salt, spices, and fat to feel the taste of the food we eat.
Salt and spices eaten in excessive amounts have the following:
- irritation of the intestinal muscles
- irritation of the intestinal lining
- water absorption in large quantities in the intestines
Atrophied taste buds are a major cause of elderly constipation because they can influence or confuse the secretion of digestive juices located in the mouth.
Smell is another important sense that starts to degrade as time goes by. This thing combined with the lack of taste sometimes keeps us away from good food. It can lead to lack of appetite for long periods of time. Also, it can keep us away from essential foods that contain proteins, vitamins, essential fatty acids, and nutrients.
2. Food assimilation
Mastication or manducation (the act of chewing or eating) is one of the most delicate steps in the entire digestion process. The reason is that mastication prepares food for the next digestion phases.
Dental order problems affect the mastication process due to:
- the lack of force to byte
- the clean or unclean environment in which the food is eaten
- the process of reducing the size of the food eaten
Our teeth become more sensitive as years go by, therefore, we need to take care of them. For those who don`t have their teeth anymore, mastication can present real problems. Disturbing the digestion phases leads to constipation.
The stomach is vital to the digestion process in elderly. Foods like meat, cheese, eggs and fish, take longer periods of time to digest due to the slower emission of acid secretion in the stomach. This delay also slows down the digestion of proteins from meat, eggs, and cheese that are essential to our body.
The entire movement that happens in the stomach slows down, making it even more difficult for the intestinal transit. This also has a negative impact on constipation in elderly because the stomach is the first place where digestion takes place, after the mouth.
The biliary secretion and the pancreatic secretion that form digestive juices are also affected. As a result, enzymes are produced in smaller quantities with lower quality. It also makes it more difficult for the assimilation of nutritive substances.
Even if the quality of the foods eaten is very good, sometimes the proper assimilation of nutrients can`t happen. Of all the mineral salts and nutrients, only Calcium is the most difficult to be assimilated due to the slow digestion process.
3. Nutrients and age
Constipation in elderly is more likely to appear when suffering from obesity or diabetes. It can also appear to people who had a sedentary life.
First of all, proteins are the most indispensable nutrients that exist because they are essential to the construction of:
- all internal organs
- digestive enzymes
- insulin or glucagon
- hepatic bile
After the age of 25, our protein mass starts to drop slowly. Between the ages of 25 to 80, we lose about 25 pounds (10 kilograms) of protein mass around our bones.
The renewal of the protein mass (tissues, skin, hair, internal organ regeneration) is slowed down over time. The reason is the slow assimilation of proteins and vitamins. A long period of sedentary pause without any kind of movement leads to the fast melt of muscles.
Fats have important roles in our body as long as the percentage no more than 20% out of the entire body. The problem with fat in elderly is that it has a tendency to grow slowly. This makes it difficult for the rest of the organs, that are covered with layers of fat, to perform well.
For example, the pancreas and the liver.
These are the two major organs that produce digestive enzymes and bile. If these organs are covered and pressed with layers of fat, they will not work properly. As a result, digestive enzymes and their mix with the bile will not be present in the right places for digestion (in the small intestine).
Obesity and diabetes
Obesity is the type of disease we have to avoid at any cost, in order to treat symptoms like constipation especially in elderly, colitis, hemorrhoids and so on.
Carbohydrates are the types of foods that provide only energy like:
- sugar, glucose
- bread, flour, pasta
When we eat any carbohydrate, the pancreas starts to produce a hormone called insulin to fix the glucose from blood cells on to the tissues. This causes the levels of sugar in the blood to drop very low.
After the age of 55, the pancreas does not work well. The reason is all the bad eating habits since childhood. This causes a delay in insulin secretion and lets the glycemia have higher levels than normal.
Elderly constipation has severe consequences when combined with diabetes. The reason is that staying with high sugar levels in our blood and not producing insulin when needed, disturbs the entire digestion process. Also, the lack of sports and regular movement makes it even more difficult to handle glycemia.
4. The elimination of nutrients waste
Urea and uric acids are the results of the slow and non-efficient cleaning process by the kidneys. As time passes by, these organs start to be less efficient. It also applies to the evacuation of the nutrients and vitamins waste that is produced by the metabolism.
A few medical aspects of our body.
The human body is built to last at least 100 years keeping its main functions in a normal rhythm. The body`s maturity growth ends at the age of 25. From there on, our body is starting to function in a cruise rhythm with all its life phases, ups and downs, and health episodes.
The problem with constipation in elderly is that, as years go by, our metabolism is starting to feel the effects of all the negative aspects of life including:
- environment (pollution of any kind: chemical, noise, pestholes, diseases)
- the mistakes in our diet which our body had to go through (fast food, lack of fiber, not eating fruits)
Another problem is that we don`t cultivate ourselves to protect our body for a long term. As we get older, every dietary mistake has a negative impact on our health.
The most important aspect of these symptom is that, as times go by, almost all internal functions slow down the rhythm and the metabolism will not work properly. Constipation is a symptom that is present even from the early ages and can develop over long periods of time. These internal problems are not easy to solve and manage.
Constipation can be relieved easily with medicine in a short period of time. But on a long term, we need to find the causes and eliminate them.
The idea of dealing and treating elderly constipation is to cultivate yourself with a few notions about nutrition and how elderly metabolism is functioning. This thing, alongside medicine and the help from doctors, can have a good impact on long-term when dealing with severe or episodic symptoms.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
My name is Sebastian D., and I am the senior editor of constipationguide.com. With the help of my mentor, Dr. Horia Marculescu, I decided to create a practical guide to constipation relief.. read more