Although incontinence can happen at any age, it’s generally more common in seniors. While many people can easily delay a trip to the bathroom, it’s not that simple for elderly adults with incontinence. More than 33 million Americans experience urinary incontinence or other bladder conditions. Even though it’s fairly common, urinary incontinence isn’t something your aging loved one should simply accept or live with. In fact, there are many effective ways to treat elderly incontinence, regardless of its cause.
Incontinence in the elderly at night and throughout the day is fairly common as adults age and their bodies change. What exactly is urinary incontinence? It’s the involuntary loss of urine, and it affects between 25-33% of adults in the U.S.
Elderly urinary incontinence can take on a few forms:
One out of two women older than 65 experience bladder leakage, according to the Urology Care Foundation. While there’s often a focus on identifying a treatment for urinary incontinence in elderly females, this condition affects both men and women roughly equally after they reach the age of 80.
From not drinking enough water to childbirth and health conditions such as diabetes, there are many different reasons behind urinary incontinence. Acute urinary incontinence in elderly adults often comes on suddenly, though sometimes different types of incontinence can develop over time.
The following health issues can cause urinary incontinence in both women and men:
Common urinary incontinence causes in women include:
Urinary incontinence in elderly males is commonly caused by:
There are six main types of urinary incontinence.
Urge incontinence is the most common diagnosis, often referred to as an overactive bladder. It involves an urgent need to urinate resulting in the loss of urine before arriving at the toilet.
Stress incontinence occurs when an increase in abdominal pressure overcomes the closing pressure of the bladder. You may feel abdominal pain when you cough, sneeze, laugh, climb stairs, or lift objects. Stress incontinence is more common in women due to pregnancy and childbirth. However, it can affect men who’ve had prostate cancer or surgery.
Overflow incontinence occurs when your bladder never completely empties. Sufferers frequently feel the need to go, and they often leak small amounts of urine. This condition is often caused by an obstruction in the urinary tract system or by a bladder that either has very weak contractions or isn’t able to contract at all.
Functional incontinence is incontinence caused by other disabilities. Neurological disorders, stroke complications, or arthritis can prevent someone from unzipping their pants quickly enough, resulting in an accident. People with functional incontinence feel the urge to urinate but aren’t physically able to plan or carry out a trip to the bathroom.
Mixed incontinence is a combination of more than one type of incontinence. People with mixed incontinence, especially women, usually have a combination of stress and urge incontinence. But people with severe dementia, Parkinson’s disease, or neurological disorders, as well as people who have had strokes, can have urge and functional incontinence.
Total incontinence results in constant and uncontrollable bladder leakage, which indicates that your sphincter muscle is no longer working. This type of acute urinary incontinence in elderly individuals can be more challenging to treat.
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Your loved one may feel embarrassed by their accidents and avoid scheduling a doctor’s appointment. They may be using absorbent pads or protective underwear to help, but urinary incontinence is very treatable with medical assistance.
They may also hold off receiving medical help because they’re unsure what kind of doctor to see. A primary care doctor, geriatrician, nurse practitioner, or urinary specialist are viable options. Both men and women can visit a urologist, or women can find a dedicated urogynecologist. If your loved one feels comfortable with their primary care doctor, it’s generally good to start there.
At your medical appointment, you’ll likely have:
A patient may also be asked to bring a bladder diary to the first visit or to create one before the second appointment. In this journal, they’ll likely record:
If the previous tests and exams don’t point to a diagnosis, the patient could undergo one of these procedures:
After a diagnosis is made, behavioral therapy is often the first urinary incontinence treatment for the elderly. This may involve:
Medications are frequently used in combination with behavioral therapies. Here are some commonly prescribed options, according to the National Association for Continence (NAFC):
The NAFC has even developed a full list of drugs used to treat elderly incontinence and other related conditions.
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In addition to medicinal treatments, these medical devices may be prescribed for women:
About 285,000 incontinence procedures are performed every year. If other treatment methods don’t work, surgery may help.
The following are common surgical procedures for urinary incontinence:
If your elderly loved one suffers from urinary incontinence, self-care can help avoid complications such as skin rashes, urine odors, and accidents.
Helpful incontinence care products. Having the right products on hand will provide you and your loved one some peace of mind in urgent moments and ease the stress of incontinence care. Common products include:
Cleaning. For cleaning, use a mild soap. Petroleum jelly or cocoa butter can protect the skin. Make sure to pat the skin dry.
Avoid falls. If your loved one frequently runs to the restroom, slip-and-fall accidents can happen more easily. Try to make the bathroom as accessible as possible.
If elderly incontinence is keeping your loved one isolated and unable to enjoy their favorite pastimes, talk to them about treatment options and encourage them to see a doctor. With the proper and appropriate treatment, your loved one could soon be enjoying life more fully.
Incontinence is among the many commons reasons that older adults choose to move to an assisted living facility or seek other long-term care options. Home care provided by professionals, such as certified nursing assistants, can help your loved one continue to live independently. Assisted living communities provide assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) including toileting support. If you think an assisted living facility could be a positive shift for your loved one, reach out to one of our Senior Living Advisors today to learn more about the benefits of senior living.
Urology Care Foundation. What is urinary incontinence?
Khandelwal, C. & Kistler, C. (2013). Diagnosis of urinary incontinence. American Family Physician.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Office on Women’s Health. (2021, February 22). Urinary incontinence.
National Association for Continence. Medications for bladder and bowel health.
Cleveland Clinic. (2019, June 20). This tampon-like device stops your urinary incontinence: Exploring an available OTC option.
iData Research. (2019, May 21).Urinary incontinence statistics 2019: Over 285,000 procedures performed annually in the U.S.
United Kingdom National Health Service. (2019, November 7). Surgery and procedures: Urinary incontinence.
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