Also known as faecal incontinence (FI), the condition can leave many seniors feeling helpless, frustrated and even depressed. As a care giver, it’s therefore important to understand FI’s potential causes, recognise its symptoms and know how to go about avoiding unplanned accidents.
What causes a loss of bowel control?
Essentially, faecal incontinence is characterised by an inability to control bowel movements. Accidents may occur when trying to simply pass wind or a person may experience a complete lack of control without even knowing it.
FI can be caused by a number of things; sometimes a short-illness such as gastroenteritis or severe diarrhoea can result in faecal leakage. In other instances, FI is associated with older age and long-term illnesses.
Age-related FI can be caused by the aging or damage of bowel muscles and nerve endings, or it can also result from chronic constipation, which is a common ailment amongst many seniors. Long-term illnesses such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, stroke and dementia can also lead to the damage of bowel tissue, muscle and nerves, resulting in FI.
How to treat a loss of bowel control
The treatment of FI is largely based on the cause for most seniors, this is why it’s so important to openly discuss their symptoms and visit a doctor for a proper diagnosis.
1. Prescribed medication
For short-term illnesses, such as severe diarrhoea, medication can be prescribed to develop a more solid stool, preventing accidents.
For more long-term FI cases, a change in diet may be necessary. Chronic constipation is a major issue among the elderly and can lead to an impacted colon and an overflow of faecal matter. This is where diet needs to be assessed. Including more fluids and fibre-rich foods will help to alleviate constipation and an overflowing colon.
While not always successful for some seniors, there are certain exercises which can strengthen the bowel muscles and pelvic floor. Visiting with a trained therapist will help to improve this muscle strength and consistent at-home practice of these exercises can also help to reduce symptoms of FI.
4. Bowel training
This involves establishing a set routine of visiting the toilet at the same time each day in order to train the bowel and its movements. You would need to devise a pattern and encourage your care receiver to stick to it as closely as possible. Try and aim for toilet visits after main meals.
In some extreme cases there are surgical options which can help to alleviate chronic cases of FI. A sphincteroplasty is commonly used to rebuild the sphincter. Sacral nerve stimulation and bowel diversion are alternative options to help manage serious cases of FI.
An important starting point in tackling a loss of bowel control is urging your loved one or care receiver to be more open about the issue, and less embarrassed. Encouraging them to openly communicate about their symptoms, how they’re feeling and their level of comfort can go a long way in handling this ailment with the dignity they deserve.