by Amy Natt, MS, CMC, CSA

Q: My mom is very independent and active, but she has had some recent episodes of incontinence. This can be very embarrassing for her, and I don’t want to see her give up the things she loves doing. Can you offer any tips to help her manage this?

A: Incontinence is a much more common occurrence than you might imagine, for both men and women. You may have noticed an increase in the number of incontinence products being marketed to the baby boomer population. This is because so many people are facing bladder or urinary system concerns; let her know she is not alone.

As we age, there are changes to the body that can impact bladder control. Bladder muscles become weaker, nerves can be damaged by diseases like Parkinson’s, an enlarged prostate may cause blockage, or there can be an infection that has gone undetected. These are merely some of the possible causes.
Identifying the cause is vital, so talking to your healthcare provider is an important first step.  Your physician may refer you to a urologist if your symptoms warrant further evaluation.
The National Institutes of Health outline four types of incontinence:

  • Stress incontinence is urine leakage that may occur when pressure is put on the bladder during exercise, coughing, sneezing, laughing or lifting heavy objects. This type of bladder control problem is the most common in younger and middle-aged women, and it may begin around the time of menopause.
  • Urge incontinence happens when people have a sudden need to urinate and aren’t able to hold their urine long enough to get to the toilet. It may be a problem for people who have diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or stroke.
  • Overflow incontinence happens when small amounts of urine leak from a bladder that is always full. A man can have trouble emptying his bladder, if an enlarged prostate is blocking the urethra. Diabetes and spinal cord injury can also cause this type of incontinence.
    Functional incontinence occurs in many older people who have normal bladder control. They just have a problem getting to the toilet because of arthritis or other disorders that make it hard to move quickly.

Once a medical professional has helped you determine the most likely cause of incontinence, you can start evaluating treatments and steps you can take to reduce or manage leakage or accidents, so that you can continue to enjoy an active lifestyle with reduced fear of having an accident.

  • Carry a backpack that contains an extra set of clothing in your car, just in case. It is always better to be prepared.
  • Keep a healthy balance of fluid intake. You don’t want to avoid fluids, as that can lead to other problems.
  • Get yourself on a schedule and make a trip to the bathroom every two to three hours. Give yourself enough time to make sure you have emptied your bladder completely. Do not wait for the sense of urgency.
  • Locate restrooms when you are out.
  • Consider Kegel exercises to help strengthen pelvic muscles. Your healthcare provider can give you a local resource to make sure you are doing them correctly.
  • Watch your alcohol and caffeine consumption, because these diuretics may be irritating to the bladder.
  • Quit smoking. Research links smoking to incontinence as well as bladder cancer.  Reach out to your local healthcare system for a program that can support you in your efforts to quit. The health benefits will far exceed improved bladder health.
  • Check out new products on the market to help manage leaks.  There are some new undergarments emerging that can help manage those “oops” moments.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about your medications to make sure that there are not any potential side effects that might be contributing factors.
  • Stay active physically and socially. Don’t let fear hold you back. Manage the issue to the best of your ability and know that it is OK to talk about it.

Bladder and kidney health are important as we age, but often overlooked until there is a specific problem.  Address incontinence early, so that you can get a head start on approaches to manage it. Try the least invasive approaches first. Keeping your medical professional in the loop also allows for red flags to be noted that might indicate a potentially larger problem.
We all laugh with that friend who sneezes or laughs too hard and leakage occurs, but when it is you, it may not seem as humorous. So take charge of your bladder health and maintain an active lifestyle.

Readers may send questions to Natt, an Aging Life Care ProfessionalTM, certified senior advisor and CEO of Aging Outreach Services. She can be reached at amyn@agingoutreachservices.com