Background: Little is known about the relationship between chronic colonic symptoms and quality of life in the elderly. Our aim was to evaluate whether functional bowel symptoms are associated with impaired functional status and well-being.
Methods: A random sample of 704 Olmsted County, Minnesota, residents 65 years of age or older was identified through the Rochester Epidemiology Project. They were mailed a valid symptom questionnaire which included the Medical Outcomes Survey. Colonic and non-colonic symptoms and health care-seeking behavior for gastrointestinal symptoms were assessed by the Elderly Bowel Symptom Questionnaire. Scores for physical, role and social functioning, mental health, bodily pain, and health perception were obtained from the Medical Outcomes Survey (MOS).
Results: The response rate was 75%. Irritable bowel syndrome and non-colonic symptoms were associated with overall poorer function. The following, in addition to age, gender, and overall functioning score, were found to discriminate asymptomatic controls from symptomatic groups: for constipation, only pain; for diarrhea, only role functioning; and for fecal incontinence, role functioning and current health. The presence of other chronic illness, defined by medication use and impact on activities, did not confound the relationship between colonic symptoms and MOS scores.
Conclusions: Functional bowel disorders appear to interfere with daily living and quality of life in elderly persons.