Medical and physical issues
My mother used to suffer from constipation, but refused to use laxatives. Fortunately, Dr. Saul could always persuade her, when he thought that it was necessary. Anyway, I followed his advice and changed our diet. Now she very rarely has any problem.
At some point in time the person with dementia may suffer from constipation. This can cause pain, loss of appetite and even incontinence (as a result of the pressure/blockage). However, the person may be unable to explain what is wrong or be unaware of the problem. Furthermore, it is not a good idea to use laxatives too often with elderly people suffering from dementia. There are three main reasons for this. First, people with dementia may find the experience undignified and embarrassing. Second, they may have difficulty understanding what is being asked or explained to them and third, there is a risk of unpleasant side effects. When used too often, laxatives can cause stomach pains, loss of appetite and even in some cases aggravate the problem. Therefore, it is necessary for you to look out for the signs of constipation, although the best way to deal with this problem is to try to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
How to cope with constipation
It is a good idea to discreetly keep track of when and how often the person with dementia goes to the toilet. You may notice that they are not going as regularly as before and that they seem to be uncomfortable, in pain or off their food. Even if they go to the toilet, they might still have a problem. It is best to try to find out if this is the case, although it might mean tackling a taboo subject for some people. Nevertheless, even if you are not completely sure that the person is suffering from constipation, it is best to check with a doctor. It is better not to administer a laxative unless you have been advised to do so by a doctor.
How to prevent constipation
Preventing constipation from occurring in the first place can help reduce the need for laxatives. You can do this by altering the person’s diet. It is not necessary to radically change the kind of food you prepare. You just need to increase the amount of roughage and liquid. That means more cereals, fruit, vegetables and soup, as well as more drinks with and between meals. Your doctor should be able to advise you on the kind of food suitable to include in such a diet. Exercise such as walking can also help.
Please see chapter on recreation, activities and exercise.
Last Updated: Tuesday 11 August 2009