Constipation is defined as fewer than three bowel movements a week, and is accompanied by bloating, pain on passing stools and stomach cramps. It is common amongst the elderly, since the quality of intestinal flora diminishes with age. Constipation is often due to lack of a balanced diet (lack of fibre, cereals and fresh fruit and vegetables) and lack of sufficient hydration (we should drink 1.5 litres a day). In the elderly, being confined to bed and a lack of physical activity can also be compounding factors.
Diarrhoea presents as liquid bowel movements occurring more than three times a day. It may be accompanied by stomach cramps, high temperature and general debilitation. The body's immune system becomes less effective with age, and seniors are more prone to intestinal infections of viral origin (gastro-enteritis). Changes in diet or food intolerances can also cause diarrhoea.
Diarrhoea can cause weight loss, general debilitation and dehydration, particularly in the elderly. Chronic diarrhoea can lead to malnutrition and further weaken the immune system, exposing the system to viruses.
Tired, heavy legs
Tired, heavy legs are a symptom of venous insufficiency, a circulatory disorder. Other symptoms include a sense of heaviness, swollen feet and ankles, restless leg syndrome and pins and needles.
Arthritis is caused by degeneration resulting in the loss of cartilage covering the extremities of bones where they meet in joints. It does not give rise to any particular infection or inflammation. The first signs generally appear between the ages of 40 and 50, in the form of pain associated with movements. Arthritis is difficult to prevent, which is frequently hereditary or associated with general factors such as age, weight, menopause and other forms of rheumatism.
Back pain occurs most commonly in the neck and the lower back, in the form of severe pain that increases with every movement of the spine. The causes are many and varied, the main ones being poor posture, muscular tension, damage to an intervertebral disc or certain malformations. Other factors more likely to affect the elderly are deterioration of the vertebral joints (arthritis) and a sedentary lifestyle. Confinement to bed and lack of activity are compounding factors in back pain.
Bronchitis is characterised by a slight cough, production of whiteish phlegm (yellowish if infection is present), fever, headaches, general aches and pains, cold symptoms, sinusitis and sore throat. It can also cause severe, painful coughing. In the elderly, bronchitis can develop into pneumonia, a respiratory infection involving not just the bronchi but lung tissue as well. Symptoms include high fever and a cough persisting for over 48 hours.