Caregiver's Home Companion

Posted February 5, 2008

Ask An Expert

Elderly Behavior: When Elderly Are Obsessed With Bowels

Q. I have looked through all the topics and I cannot find anything relating to the problem I am having with my mother. She is constantly saying she is constipated -- she really is not, but when she gets to the bathroom, she uses her fingers to try to "dig" the feces out of herself. She gets it all over her hands and it is just generally disgusting. She does not have Alzheimer's, but her mind is a little bad. She is obsessed with having bowel movements. What can I do? Thanks.

Ann. Brinson, Georgia.

A. My heart goes out to you. Unfortunately, this is not really an uncommon problem in elder care, but the issue you’re dealing with doesn’t have any easy solutions. If your mother's mind "is a little bad," it doesn't really matter what the cause is. Reasoning with her, or trying to "get her to remember" is fruitless. You certainly already know that!

The best solution really will be up to you, rather than her, as she can't do anything about how she feels. Constipated or not, she thinks she is! So, you have to control the situation.

First, be as sure as you can be that she isn't feeling any irritation or discomfort that might be making her obsession worse. The next time she's at the doctor, have the doctor check for hemorrhoids or anything else that might be making her uncomfortable.

Second, try dressing her so she can't get out of her clothes without help. Jumpsuits can work well if the front zipper is secured so she can't get it down. Even better, there is also clothing especially designed for people with dementia that opens down the back. Buck and Buck has an excellent selection of stylish back-opening clothing for men and women at www.buckandbuck.comIf you choose to try clothing that she can't easily remove, your mother might be quite confused and upset at first. You'll have to keep an eye on her so you know when she goes into the bathroom. Otherwise, her frustration might result in a meltdown. If the bathroom is out of your sight, a bell or other noisemaker on the door might also be useful.

I certainly hope this helps.

This answer is provided by Molly Shomer, MSSW, LMSW, a family caregiving specialist and licensed geriatric care manager. Molly, a nationally recognized expert on eldercare issues, is the author of The Insider's Guide to Assisted Living. Her website is, and she can be reached at

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