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Bowel Elimination

Bowel elimination often changes as we grow older, but there are common ways to assist in regular bowel elimination.

Bowel habbits differ from person to person. Some people move their bowels once a day, while others may only move theirs 2-3 times a week.


In the hospice patient, many things may cause a less frequent bowel movement and difficulty passing stools, leading to constipation. The best treatment for constipation is prevention. A plan for prevention includes:

  • Try to maintain well-balanced meals

  • Set aside a time each day (usually after breakfast) that the patient sits for a period of time on teh bedpan, commode or toilet.

  • Maintain fluid consumption to two quarts a day (unless otherwise instructed by your doctor).

  • Try to consume plenty of nectras, juices, and jellos, such as prune juice.

If prevention efforts don't work, and the patient has not had a bowel movement for 1-2 days, tell your primary nurse. Your nurse will want to know what has worked for the patient's constipation in the past, and may suggest non-prescription laxatives, which ar available over the counter.


Diarrhea can also be a problem for the hospice paitnet. It is characterized by frequent watery stools, and is often accompanied by stomach cramping. If the patient has diarrhea, you should keep a record of the frequency of stools. Your primary nurse will try to find the cause for this diarrhea and will discuss with the doctor about a medicine to treat it. Some medicines can be obtained without a prescription, while others will require a prescription.

Things to Remember When a Patient Has Diarrhea:

  • Keep the bedpan close to the patient to avoid accidents.

  • Place a waterproof bed pad under the patient. If stool leakage should occur, the pad may help to prevent additional changes on the entire bed.

  • After each loose stool, the rectal area should be washed with mild soap and water and a skin protection lotion should be applied.

  • Encourage the patient to increase liquids if diarrhea occurs.

  • The patient can drink juices or liquid diluted jello for both fluid intake and to provide some sugar for energy.

  • If the patient is too weak and can't get to the bathroom, then it will be necessary fo rthe patient to use either a commode (a chair with a bed pan inserted in the open center), a bed pain, or a diaper.

Things to Remember About Using Commodes and Bedpans:

  • Warm a metal bedpan by running warm water over it prior to use.

  • Put a towel on the back side of the bedpan for padding.

  • Sprinkle baby powder or cornstarch around the top of the bedpan so that the patient's skin will not stick to it.

  • Keep the commode near the bed and help the patient to get on and off of it.

  • If the patient is bed-bound, it is important to try and put them in a sitting position for elimination by raising the head of the bed.

  • Remember to wash your hands after helping the patient with elimination and to wash the patient's hands as well.

  • Give the patient time alone during elimination.

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