Last year the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that almost half of all adult women experience urinary incontinence. Senior men also experience the problem. But if you or a loved one is among these 25 million people, you might be surprised at that number. It’s not a topic people habitually chat about like they might their hip replacement or cataract surgery.
Experts say that on average, seniors cope with the problem for seven years before getting help! This silence keeps them from accessing effective treatment. Untreated, incontinence almost always worsens, raising a person’s risk of fall injuries, skin problems and sleep disturbances. A senior with incontinence may avoid socializing and physical activity, the first step in a debilitating withdrawal from life.
Don’t let embarrassment stand in the way of seeking help. Talk to your doctor right away if you’re experiencing “accidents.”
The first step will be to diagnose what’s causing the problem. Doctors describe four types of incontinence:
Urge incontinence, sometimes referred to as “overactive bladder,” happens when the bladder begins to empty itself before the person realizes it—often too late for them to reach the bathroom. This type of incontinence occurs often in older adults and can be the result of damage to the nerves, irritation from infection, or certain foods.
Overflow incontinence occurs when small amounts of urine leak from a bladder that is always full due to an obstruction, constipation, nerve damage, or in men, an enlarged prostate.
Stress incontinence happens when urine leaks from the bladder as a person coughs, sneezes, laughs or lifts heavy objects. It is often seen in women who have weak muscles in the pelvic floor, usually due to childbirth.
Functional incontinence occurs when a person has normal bladder control, but is unable to get to the toilet on time because of vision loss, stroke, arthritis, osteoporosis or other mobility problems, or confusion due to Alzheimer’s disease or a related condition.
Once the doctor understands what’s causing the problem, treatment might include bladder training, physical therapy, pelvic muscle exercises (such as the well-known “Kegels”), medications, or in some cases, surgery. Sometimes it’s a matter of dietary changes, or wearing clothes with easy fasteners. When treatment doesn’t completely work, today’s disposable undergarments are inconspicuous and quite effective in masking incontinence.
Speaking up is the first step. Don’t wait to seek treatment that can improve your health and quality of life in so many ways.
The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your health care provider. Report symptoms of urinary incontinence to your doctor right away.