Caregiver Guide: Constipation Problems

Understanding the Problem

Constipation occurs when bowel movements are small, hard, and dry and happen three times a week or less. If more than three days pass without a bowel movement, the contents of the intestines (guts) may harden.  This can make it difficult or painful for the person to have a bowel movement.

Constipation can also occur when the person strains during bowel movements, or does not feel like the bowel movement has been completed.

Other symptoms of constipation include feeling bloated, uncomfortable, and sluggish. 

Many people think they are constipated when, in fact, their bowel movements are regular. For example, some people believe they should have a bowel movement every day. However, there is no right number of daily or weekly bowel movements. Normal may be three times a day or three times a week, depending on the person. Also, some people naturally have firmer stools than others. 

Constipation is the most common gastrointestinal complaint in the United States.  This results in about two million medical visits each year. However, most people treat themselves without seeking medical help.

Your goals are to:

  • Relieve the older person’s constipation
  • Prevent constipation by
    • Providing plenty of water and other liquids
    • Serving foods rich in fiber
    • Encouraging exercise
    • Call for professional help when needed

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Updated July 2015

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