Understanding Urinary Incontinence in Older Adults

senior lady talking with doctor

Urinary incontinence in older adults can impact daily life but can often be resolved with simple changes.

Urinary incontinence is a common issue faced by older adults, but it is not an inevitable part of aging. The condition frequently requires that older adults be near a bathroom and may make them feel self-conscious about personal hygiene. As a result, many older adults curb activities and social outings. The best course of action if an older adult you love is dealing with urinary incontinence is to schedule an appointment with the doctor. Bladder control issues can impact an older adult’s self-esteem and can often be resolved with simple dietary and lifestyle changes or with medical care.

What Are the Symptoms of Urinary Incontinence?

Urinary incontinence in older adults can be characterized by minor leaks triggered by sneezing or laughing to a sudden urge that creates an immediate need to urinate. Common symptoms include:

  • Overflow incontinence – Frequent or constant dribbling of urine due to a bladder that does not empty completely.
  • Stress incontinence – Sneezing, laughing, coughing, exercising, or lifting a heavy object can exert pressure on the bladder, causing it to leak.
  • Urge incontinence – An intense and sudden urge to urinate that is followed by an involuntary loss of urine.
  • Functional incontinence – A mental or physical impairment like arthritis that keeps the older adult from getting to the bathroom in time or unbuttoning pants quickly enough.
  • Mixed incontinence – When an older adult experiences two or more types of urinary incontinence, such as stress and urge incontinence.

What Are the Causes of Urinary Incontinence?

Urinary incontinence can be caused by underlying medical conditions, physical problems, or everyday habits. It is important to see a doctor to determine the exact cause. The doctor can suggest lifestyle changes, assess the medications the older adult takes regularly, and offer medical intervention to control the issue.

Temporary Urinary Incontinence

Certain foods, drinks, and medications may stimulate the bladder and increase the volume of urine. They include:

  • Caffeine
  • Sparking water and carbonated drinks
  • Alcohol
  • Chocolate
  • Artificial Sweeteners
  • Spicy, sugary, or acidic foods, especially citrus fruits
  • Heart and blood pressure medications, muscle relaxers, and sedatives

Persistent Urinary Incontinence

Underlying physical problems or changes can also cause ongoing urinary incontinence in older adults. They include:

  • Menopause – After menopause, women produce less estrogen, which helps keep the lining of the bladder and urethra healthy.
  • Age-related changes – An older adult’s bladder can have a decreased capacity to hold urine.
  • Enlarged prostate and prostate cancer – Incontinence can be caused by an enlarged prostate gland and can also be a side-effect of prostate cancer treatments.
  • Neurological disorders – Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke, a spinal injury, or tumor can impact nerve signals that are tied to the bladder, causing a loss of bladder control.

What Are the Best Ways to Reduce the Risks for Urinary Incontinence?

Age, gender, and family history can all contribute to the likelihood of urinary incontinence. While these factors cannot be changed, implementing lifestyle changes can help older adults reduce the risk of developing urinary incontinence and provide a number of overall health benefits. They include:

  • Smoking cessation programs
  • Making healthy dietary choices
  • Exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Practicing pelvic floor exercises
  • Reducing or eliminate alcohol, caffeine, and acidic foods

What Are Common Treatments for Urinary Incontinence?

Effective treatments for older adults with urinary incontinence depend on the severity, type, and cause. The doctor may recommend a combination of the following:

  • Scheduled toilet trips – Rather than waiting until the need to go, scheduling a time to urinate every few hours.
  • Double voiding – This technique involves urinating, waiting a few minutes, and then trying again.
  • Bladder training – The goal with this technique is to lengthen the time between trips to the toilet. For example, an older adult may be encouraged to try and wait 10 minutes once they have the urge to urinate, and gradually increasing the time over a few weeks.
  • Pelvic floor exercises – While specifically for stress incontinence, these exercises help strengthen the muscles that control urination.
  • Medications – There are a variety of medications that can help calm an overactive bladder, treat urge incontinence, and relax bladder muscles to make it easier to fully empty the bladder.

At Visiting Care Giving Services, our specially trained caregivers can help older adults manage urinary incontinence discretely and while maintaining dignity. Reach out to the St. Charles home care experts today at (636) 493-9058 to learn about the many in-home care services we offer that can help an older loved one remain independent and engaged in life. For a full list of all of the communities where we provide care, please visit our Service Area page.