We’re getting older, and so are our loved ones. And as we age, we know the normal signs to look out for in ourselves and others and when to start reaching out for medical advice or assistance. Aches and pains, slipping memory, and waning day-to-day energy levels are just a few of the signs that age is catching up to us, and that seeking a healthcare professional for advice on the next steps and solutions may be beneficial. Another sign of aging that is fairly common, but certainly not discussed as often as wrinkles or an achy back is urinary incontinence. In other words, light bladder leaks that are out of our control one way or another, and this is a problem that only becomes more common as we age.
What is Urinary Incontinence?
To understand why older adults develop urinary incontinence, it’s important to know the different types of urinary incontinence. Not all bladder leaks are created the same, in fact, there are several types of urinary incontinence: stress, urge, overflow, and functional.
Stress – Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI) is an involuntary leak whenever the bladder, abdomen, or urinary tract is put under pressure or “stress” from activity or function. These activities can be minimal like sneezing, coughing, or bending over.
Urge – According to the Mayo Clinic, Urge Incontinence can be described as “a sudden, intense urge to urinate followed by an involuntary loss of urine. You may need to urinate often, including throughout the night.”
Overflow – with Overflow Incontinence, the bladder fails to empty correctly, either due to physical or neurological conditions, resulting in small dribbles throughout the day because of residual urine build-up.
Functional – Seen commonly in older people, functional incontinence is defined by the Continence Foundation of Australia as “ relating to a physical, intellectual or environmental issue that can be a contributing cause of incontinence in a person with normal bladder function. Some of the causes of functional incontinence include problems with walking (arthritis or cerebral palsy) and problems with memory or learning (dementia and intellectual disability).”
While urinary incontinence is embarrassing and uncomfortable to talk about, it’s more common than you may think, especially in women. Women are twice as likely to experience a kind of urinary incontinence than men. More than 4 in 10 women 65 and older have urinary incontinence, according to the CDC.
Why Do Older Adults Develop Urinary Incontinence?
As mentioned before, women post-menopause are likely to develop and experience some form of light bladder leaks. While both men and women can develop urinary incontinence at virtually any age, one of the most common types seen in the older population of women is SUI. There are several factors that may impact if a woman develops stress incontinence as they age. This is because the pelvic floor is weakened or damaged and unable to control and stop the flow of urine.
Weak Muscles: As we age, our muscles begin to lose mass, flexibility, and function, including the pelvic floor.
Estrogen: After menopause, women’s bodies produce less estrogen, the female sex hormone. Estrogen helps to line the tissue that supports the urethra, the tube that releases urine.
Childbirth: Women who have given birth vaginally, or even women who delivered via emergency cesarean section and went through labor, have significantly weakened the pelvic floor. Light bladder leaks may start to develop months, even years after delivery.
Surgeries: Women that have had surgical procedures for everything from removing cancerous tumors to hysterectomies may experience light bladder leaks post-procedure.
While most of these risk factors are not necessarily exclusive to the aging population, they are more commonly seen in them.
There are, of course, solutions available for those suffering from light bladder leaks. The most important factor when it comes to solutions for aging people is comfort and effectiveness. It is important to remember that every body is different and one solution may not be suitable universally. That being said, here are a few suggestions to help reduce leaks from occurring and ruining clothes, saving you the embarrassment.
Pads and Liners – Pads and pantyliners could be used to absorb and whisk away urine and preventing leaks from showing on clothes and surfaces. These products are found in the feminine hygiene aisle and are fairly accessible. The only caveat is that with these products, it is critical to change them often to prevent infection, irritation, and possible odor.
Sling Surgery – Pelvic sling surgery may be used in severe cases of incontinence to support the bladder and/or urethra. Currently, there is still plenty of controversy surrounding this type of procedure and its safety, with a recent recall from the FDA.
Incontinence Bed Pads – These may be appropriate for those suffering from functional incontinence or bedwetting. These disposable pads are used on top of bedding to absorb leaks while laying down.
Medication – Your doctor may prescribe either topical or orally administered estrogen that is reduced in production in menopausal years. This may help reduce leaks by supporting the urethra.
Revive® – Revive® is a reusable bladder support device that reduces leaks for up to 12 hours a day. The device is inserted and removed like a tampon and is easy to clean and store in the provided carrying case. Revive can be found in feminine hygiene aisles in retailers nationwide.