Older people and laxative use: literature review and pilot study report

T Koch, S Hudson
Journal of Clinical Nursing 2000, 9 (4): 516-25
This study explored older adults' perceptions of constipation, and the measures taken if they believed themselves to be afflicted by this condition. The paper provides an overview of the current literature surrounding laxative use, followed by a discussion of the pilot study and its findings. The objectives of the pilot study were to establish older people's definitions of the term 'constipation'; identify prescribed laxatives, over-the-counter laxatives, and home remedies used by older people to manage constipation; produce a detailed account of when these products are used; identify the older person's belief system underpinning their concepts of constipation, and their consequent use of laxative products; and produce information which will inform nursing practice, with a particular focus on nurses in community practice. People who identified themselves as being constipated were interviewed on a one to one basis. Participants shared their stories of loneliness, social isolation and anxiety related to constipation and the need to use laxatives on a daily basis, and described persistent unpleasant and often painful physical symptoms such as bloating, urges, excessive flatus, nausea and cramps, commonly associated with laxative ingestion. Nurses are challenged to work with older people within a 'wellness' framework, helping clients to maintain their bowel function, rather than fall back on short-term options, which provide only brief relief of symptoms, while ignoring the underlying causes.

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