What Caregivers Should Know About Bowel Incontinence


Speak with your doctor to determine cause.
If you are the caregiver of an elderly loved one, you may be facing the challenge of dealing with bowel incontinence. Fecal incontinence can be embarrassing, and many caregivers are hesitant in discussing this problem, with the elderly loved ones, for fear of humiliating them. However, this is never a good solution. It is also important not to shy away from talking to their senior’s doctor. Many treatments (some of them simple) are available that can improve, if not correct, fecal incontinence. The first step is to understand what could be causing the bowel incontinence.


  • Loss of muscle strength with age-This is the most common cause of bowel incontinence in the elderly. This is happens over time, as muscles and ligaments that support your pelvis, as well as your anal sphincter muscles, can weaken, leading to incontinence.
  • Constipation/Diarrhea-If either of these are chronic, they can contribute to incontinence. This underlying cause of bowel incontinence is the most easily treatable with dietary and lifestyle changes, coupled with medications.
  •  Muscle or nerve damage-Often, the cause of fecal incontinence is injury to the anal sphincter, which is the rings of muscle at the end of the rectum that help hold in stool. If these muscles are damaged, they're simply not strong enough to hold stool back properly, and some may leak out. If the nerves that control the anal sphincter, or those that sense stool in the rectum are damaged, bowel incontinence can result.
  • Loss of storage capacity (accommodation) in the rectum-Normally, your rectum stretches to accommodate stool. However, if your rectum is scarred or your rectal walls have stiffened from surgery, radiation treatment or inflammatory bowel disease, ( such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis), the rectum can't stretch as much as it needs to, so excess stool leaks out.
  •  Surgery-There are many kinds of surgery that damage the anus, and cause bowel incontinence.
  • Rectal cancer-Cancers of the anus and rectum, can lead to bowel incontinence if the cancer invades the muscle walls, or disrupts the nerve impulses, needed for defecation.
  • Other conditions-If the rectum drops down into the anus or, in women, if the rectum protrudes through the vagina, bowel incontinence can result. Hemorrhoids can also prevent complete closure of the anal sphincter, leading to fecal incontinence.

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It becomes crucial for the elderly person, to have a medical evaluation, if they are experiencing bowel incontinence. The type of treatment that will be used, will be determined, in large part, by the underlying causes of the bowel incontinence. Once the reason for the bowel incontinence is found, treatment is generally focused on three different areas.


These include: behavioral and lifestyle changes, medications and surgery.
  • Behavioral changes are almost always implemented. These can include any combination of: dietary changes, bowel training, treatment for impacted stool, sacral nerve stimulation and exercises. The types of treatment that are used will be determined in large part by the health status and age of the senior.

  • Medication may also be used in treating bowel incontinence. This can include the use of: anti-diarrhea drugs, laxatives, stool softeners and other medications. The senior’s doctor will determine what medication works best for the senior, depending on the health status, medications that are already being taken, and the severity of the bowel incontinence.

  • Surgery can also be used to treat bowel incontinence. Sphincter repair, operations to treat rectal prolapse, or hemorrhoids, and colostomy, are among the most common procedures. It should be noted that these are not easy surgeries, and are generally performed on only the most severe cases of bowel incontinence.

Caregivers can find it an overwhelming challenge, when dealing with managing bowel incontinence. Caregiverpartnership.com understands that needs and frustrations of caregivers, and has created a tool that allows you to access the information and products, you need, quickly and easily. Simply click on http://www.caregiverpartnership.com/incontinence-product-finder/ to get started.

 About The CareGiver Partnership. The CareGiver Partnership helps caregivers and their loved ones with answers to their caregiving questions, including information about home health care products and supplies, from our Wisconsin-based team of Product Specialists who are all current or former caregivers. The company’s Web site provides the largest online library of resources on subjects most important to caregivers — from arthritis to assisted living, and Parkinson’s to prostate cancer — as well as access to more than 3,000 home care products for incontinence, skin care, mobility, home safety and daily living aids. The CareGiver Partnership was founded in 2004 by Lynn Wilson of Neenah, Wisc. Visit http://www.caregiverpartnership.com to learn more or call 1-800-985-1353.

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