Incontinence is not a dirty word but a reality for many elders and their caregivers. Still, no one really wants to discuss a situation that a new government report states affects more than half of older Americans.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health statistics are sobering. Many find that incontinence carries a bit of a stigma as well, despite that fact that it is widespread.
Suffering from incontinence can be embarrassing to the point of driving some elders to isolate themselves.
Incontinence Impacts Lives
Bladder and bowel incontinence is very prevalent and can affect many parts of an older person’s daily life. It is not just physical but emotional and social. It can lead to a loss of dignity when others don’t seem to understand.
Incontinence is a symptom not a disease and should be thought of as treatable.
It is generally not something that those affected can control. Incontinence happens when muscles become weak and the person is unable to control the flow of urine or bowel movements. Once they become weak, accidents occur. The opposite can also happen, that is an overactive bladder can lead to strong urges to go to the bathroom and sometimes not quite making it there in time.
Incontinence is also the result of prostate problems and even nerve damage for many older adults.
Who Does Incontinence Affect?
According to the recent research by the CDC, incontinence is becoming much more rampant than many previously thought. Caregivers are impacted, not only in time associated with keeping their loved ones clean and dry but also because the cost of supplies and clothing can overload a family caregiver.
- Half the adult population over 65 years and living at home reported experiencing bladder and bowel leakage (44% bladder and 17% bowel); 45% of those receiving home care reported incontinence
- One fourth had moderate, severe or very severe urinary leakage
- 8% had moderate, severe or very severe bowel leakage
- Incontinence seems to increase in prevalence with age
- Incontinence should not be considered a normal outcome of aging and is not inevitable, according to Dr. Tomas Griebling, spokesman for the American Urology Association
- Women tend to have urinary incontinence twice as often as men
There are more treatments of incontinence now than in the past. It has been estimated that 80% of those who suffer with incontinence can be successfully treated and some cured.
Depending on the cause of the incontinence for your senior, the frequency of the incontinence and what works best for your senior loved one, the options vary greatly. Some are quick fixes and others require time and patience.
- Exercises – if your senior is able to participate in pelvic exercises, known as Kegel exercises, it will help make the muscles stronger so that the bladder is more able to hold urine.
- Timed Voiding – a technique to help control the bladder, in which bathroom trips are timed to a schedule, perhaps every one or two hours. As the bladder gains control, the time can be extended. Making an attempt and emptying the bladder on schedule can help further strengthen muscles and train the bladder. This technique is improved when combined with pelvic exercises.
- Lifestyle – improving other aspects of your senior’s health may help to improve incontinence. This may include, for example, weight management, avoiding alcohol, smoking cessation, avoiding caffeine, preventing constipation and avoiding heavy lifting.
- Biofeedback – the use of sensors to alert your senior to the signals his or her own body is sending may help regain control over the muscles needed to control the bladder or urethra.
- Medical Checkup – talking to your doctor about the incontinence, including getting a urology consultation to see if there is a physical cause that can be corrected either surgically or with a medication, could help control incontinence. Urinary tract infections, BPH, prostatitis, bladder stones or other physical causes can be evaluated and treated by your physician. Your doctor may want your senior to undergo lab tests, urinalysis, bladder diary, post-void residual tests of the bladder, ultrasound, or other procedures such as a cystogram or cystoscopy.
- Medication Review – some medications can lead to incontinence, including diuretics. You might want to talk with your senior’s doctor about the effects of medications and ways to work around the side effects.
- Clear the way! – keep clutter away from the path to and from the bathroom so that your senior can get in quickly before incontinence strikes. Keep a way finding light going in and near the bathroom too so that there is no hesitation in the dark. If a home renovation is needed, a wider doorway to the bathroom to allow easier access could be planned. An elevated toilet seat or a higher toilet can also be installed to make access easier.
- Dress appropriately – if your senior loved one wears clothes and undergarments that are easy to get off when the time comes to use the bathroom, it could prevent incontinent episodes. When clothes with buckles and buttons are confusing to get off, it could lead to accidents.
- Incontinence Products – if your senior is unable to totally achieve continence, there are products that can be used to prevent soiled clothes and embarrassing situations. Absorbent pads to catch bladder leakage can help. These are available both for women and men in a variety of styles and sizes. Barrier cream can also be used to protect sensitive skin.
Investigate All Possible Cures
Because incontinence in our aging loved ones often leads to embarrassment, isolation, depression, skin impairment and could lead to infections, it is important to investigate all possible interventions that could reduce or even cure incontinence.
Another potential problem for our seniors who have sudden urges and hurry to the bathroom is falls that may occur in their rush. Unfortunately, falls occur when they slip on something in their haste, sometimes even including their own clothes. Grab bars around the toilet (not just in the shower), removing throw rugs, and adding adequate lighting in key areas of the home can help to reduce falling but reducing incontinence episodes in the beginning would be helpful.
Your support and encouragement to overcome this troubling situation for your senior can help them cope with the problem and improve their quality of life.