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  • Writer's pictureChristian Companions

Incontinence in Aging: How to Provide Compassionate Care

Updated: Jun 13

Incontinence care is a crucial aspect of supporting the elderly, but we often approach it with hesitation or misunderstanding. 

As we age, our bodies undergo changes that can affect bladder function, leading to situations such as urinary incontinence and overactive bladder. These conditions not only impact the physical health of our seniors but also their emotional and psychological well-being.

This article will focus on understanding bladder and incontinence issues, examining the common causes of incontinence in seniors, identifying different types of urinary incontinence, and exploring the various treatments and management strategies available. We’ll also highlight preventive measures and risk minimization strategies to provide a comprehensive overview of incontinence care. 

By informing ourselves and adopting a compassionate approach, we can significantly enhance the support we provide to our elderly loved ones, ensuring they receive the care they deserve while maintaining their dignity.

Understanding Bladder and Incontinence Issues

What is Incontinence?

Incontinence refers to the involuntary loss of bladder or bowel control. This condition can stem from multiple causes including age-related changes in the urinary tract, urinary tract infections, and other systemic conditions like diabetes, cancer, stroke, cognitive impairments, and mobility issues.

How Common is Incontinence Among Senior Citizens

Urinary incontinence is prevalent among the elderly, significantly impacting those in nursing homes where as many as 77% of women are affected. 

In the general older population, the estimated prevalence of urinary tract symptoms is 17%, which escalates to over 75% in individuals over 80 years old.

Quality of Life for the Incontinent 

People suffering from incontinence often find that their overall quality of life suffers because it affects them physically, mentally, and socially.

Physically, individuals may suffer from sleep disturbances, skin irritation, and urinary tract infections, which can cause weakness, disorientation, confusion, loss of appetite, and increased fall risks.  

Mentally, the condition is linked with increased risks of anxiety and depression. 

Socially, the impact extends to reduced participation in daily activities such as work, travel, and physical exercise, further exacerbated by the stigma and embarrassment associated with incontinence. 

These factors collectively contribute to a significant emotional and financial burden, not only for the individuals affected but also for their caregivers and the broader healthcare system.

Types of Urinary Incontinence Explained

Stress Incontinence

When physical activities like coughing, sneezing, or exercising increase pressure on the bladder, stress incontinence can occur, leading to unintentional urine leakage. This condition is especially prevalent among women, particularly during or post-menopause due to pelvic floor muscle weakness or damage.

Urge Incontinence

Also known as overactive bladder, urge incontinence is characterized by a sudden, intense urge to urinate and an inability to hold urine long enough to reach a restroom. This type can be exacerbated by neurological conditions such as diabetes or Parkinson’s disease, and is more common as people age.

Overflow Incontinence

Overflow incontinence occurs when the bladder does not empty properly, leading to frequent or constant dribbling of urine. It is often associated with a blockage in the urinary tract, such as an enlarged prostate, or with nerve damage from conditions like diabetes.

Functional Incontinence

This type of incontinence is due to physical or cognitive impairments that prevent timely access to a toilet. Conditions such as severe arthritis or dementia can hinder someone’s ability to reach or use the bathroom, leading to unintentional leakage.

Mixed and Total Incontinence

Mixed incontinence combines symptoms of both stress and urge incontinence, where individuals may experience leakage due to physical exertion as well as sudden urges. Total incontinence, on the other hand, involves continuous leaking due to an inability to store any urine in the bladder.

Common Causes of Incontinence in Seniors

Physical and Medical Conditions

Urinary Tract Issues

Incontinence can arise from urinary tract infections or vaginal irritations. Additionally, constipation can exert pressure on the bladder, which may lead to incontinence.

Neurological Disorders 

Diseases such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease can damage nerves that control the bladder, contributing to incontinence.

Prostate-Related Issues 

In men, conditions like prostatitis or benign prostate hyperplasia (enlargement of the prostate gland) can impair bladder control.

Medications and Their Side Effects

Blood Pressure Medications 

Alpha-blockers used to treat high blood pressure and prostate issues can relax the bladder muscles, leading to urinary incontinence.

Antidepressants and Antipsychotics

Some of these medications impair bladder contraction or diminish awareness of bladder fullness, exacerbating incontinence symptoms.


Commonly known as water pills, these increase urine production, potentially worsening incontinence symptoms.

Other Medications

Sedatives and muscle relaxants may also contribute to incontinence by reducing mobility or relaxing bladder muscles.

Incontinence: The Role of Diet and Daily Habits

Fluid and Diet Management

Excessive intake of fluids, especially at night, can aggravate bladder control issues. It is advisable to moderate fluid consumption and avoid intake a few hours before bedtime.

Bladder Irritants

Foods and beverages like caffeine, alcohol, and chocolates might irritate the bladder. Reducing their consumption can help manage incontinence symptoms.

Weight Management

Being overweight can put extra pressure on the bladder and pelvic floor muscles, leading to incontinence. Managing weight through diet and exercise can significantly help.

Dietary Composition

 A high intake of saturated fats relative to polyunsaturated fats and excessive calorie consumption have been linked to an increased risk and severity of urinary incontinence.

Treatments and Management Approaches for the Incontinent

Behavioral Therapies and Lifestyle Adjustments

Behavioral therapies offer a way to significantly improve urinary incontinence by altering daily habits and teaching new skills. Techniques include bladder diaries for self-monitoring, pelvic floor muscle training with biofeedback, and urge suppression strategies. 

Medical Interventions and Devices

Various medications and devices are available to manage urinary incontinence. Some medications can help relax the bladder and increase its capacity, suitable for urge incontinence. 

For those with stress incontinence, vaginal estrogen creams and urethral bulking agents may be used to enhance urethral closure. Additionally, biofeedback and electrical nerve stimulation can improve bladder control by enhancing pelvic floor muscle function.

Surgical Options

Surgical treatments provide a long-term solution for severe cases of stress urinary incontinence. Sling procedures, using either synthetic materials or autologous tissue, support the urethra and prevent urine leakage during physical activities. More invasive options like bladder neck suspension or prolapse surgery may be considered when other treatments fail. 

It is absolutely crucial to discuss the potential risks and benefits of these surgeries with healthcare providers before proceeding.

Preventive Measures and Risk Minimization

Exercises and Physical Therapy

Pelvic Floor Muscle Exercises (PFME)

We often emphasize the importance of strengthening the pelvic floor muscles to improve bladder control. This can be achieved through exercises like Kegel exercises, which help in tightening the urethral sphincter, thus reducing involuntary leakage.

Regular Physical Activity

Engaging in regular exercises such as walking, yoga, or light aerobics not only maintains overall health but also enhances the muscular activity of the bowel, helping to prevent constipation and reduce pressure on the pelvic floor.

Regular Medical Check-ups

Regular check-ups can help detect and manage conditions that may contribute to incontinence, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Early detection through routine screenings like blood sugar and cholesterol tests can lead to better management of these conditions.

Lifestyle and Medication Review

During these visits, it's beneficial to review medications and lifestyle habits with healthcare providers. Adjustments in these areas can significantly impact the management of incontinence.

Incontinence in Conclusion

Through our look into incontinence in older adults, we've learned about the many aspects of this condition—from how common it is and its impact on daily life, to the range of treatments and preventive measures available. Understanding the different causes and types of urinary incontinence is key to offering caring and effective help, improving the well-being of our elderly population.

Our discussion highlighted the importance of informed and compassionate care, as well as the role of lifestyle changes, medications, and sometimes surgeries in managing this condition. As we work to better support those dealing with incontinence, it's crucial to combine knowledge, understanding, and empathy in caregiving.

Recognizing the significant impact of such care on the quality of life for seniors, it's essential to seek the right support services. If you or a loved one needs an in-home caregiver, please contact us at Christian Companions for a free consultation. 

By creating an environment of sensitivity, awareness, and proactive management, we can greatly improve the lives of those dealing with incontinence, ensuring they maintain their dignity and comfort in their later years.



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