Adult urinary incontinence is an issue that affects many elderly people around the world. In fact, at least 20% of elderly adults living in community dwellings have some form of incontinence that has an impact on their daily life.
Urinary incontinence is common in elderly people because our muscles tend to relax more as we age. However, not every type of incontinence is the same, and there are a variety of factors to consider when addressing these issues.
When you’re caring for an elderly loved one with urinary incontinence, or are an individual suffering from this condition yourself, it’s important to understand what type of incontinence you have in order to properly prevent and manage the symptoms.
Incontinence Issues With The Elderly
There are a variety of reasons why urinary incontinence is common in elderly adults, and it all has to do with the natural aging process.
As we age, many of our muscles become more relaxed or weakened over time, and older populations are more vulnerable to health conditions that could have an impact on the bladder’s function as a whole. These could be physical conditions, such as arthritis, that make it difficult to physically visit the washroom frequently, or they could be cognitive conditions such as dementia that make it difficult for the body’s brain and body to communicate the urge to urinate. For example, the risk of developing prostate issues increases as men age, and urinary incontinence is a major symptom of prostate cancer or another prostate-affecting condition.
The two most common forms of urinary incontinence in elderly people are urge incontinence and functional incontinence.
Urge incontinence essentially refers to those who experience the need to urinate but can’t reach the washroom in time, most often because their bladder physically can’t hold the urine long enough. With urge incontinence, the individual will likely feel a very sudden strong need to urinate, without warning, and without adequate time to get to the washroom.
Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis are some examples of conditions that could impact the bladder’s ability to hold urine. Further, these conditions increase in risk as we age, meaning that elderly individuals are more at risk in developing these symptoms. In the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, urinary incontinence is a frequent issue because the individual doesn’t feel the need to urinate, forgets they need to urinate, or cannot locate the toilet in time.
Slightly different than the other types of incontinence, functional incontinence occurs when an individual doesn’t actually have any problem with their pelvic muscles or bladder, but are physically unable to make it to the washroom in time to relieve themselves. For example, they may be suffering from chronic arthritis in their knees or legs that make it difficult to walk to the washroom often.
Mobility issues are a high concern in elderly populations, as many of these individuals are more likely to require assistance such as a walker or wheelchair, or suffer from weakened bones and muscles from the natural aging process. Additionally, these factors could be a mental condition as well, such as Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, that mentally prevents the individual from understanding how to get to the washroom or where the washroom is.
Diagnosing Elderly Urinary Incontinence
In order to properly diagnose urinary incontinence in an elderly adult, a doctor will often go over the individual’s medical history and administer some tests to determine the symptoms and causes. On many occasions, urinary incontinence is actually a symptom of a different medical issue or condition, and once that condition is maintained, the symptoms of urinary incontinence may be eliminated or, at the very least, decrease.
There are some medications available with a doctor’s recommendation that can help the bladder empty properly to avoid leaks in between urination. Addition, other devices, such as vaginal creams, catheters, and nerve stimulation, can be provided by doctors in order to decrease the frequency of accidents and help the bladder regain control over the muscles and flow of urination.
If you or your elderly loved one are suffering from urinary incontinence, speak to your doctor as soon as possible to determine the best solutions for you that can help bring you some peace of mind as you cope with your situation.