We take a lot of what our bodies can do for granted until we’re inhibited somehow. We never appreciate how great it is to breathe until we have a stuffy nose. Never realized how much you turn your head in a day until you strain your neck. Even the act of walking is seen as a chore until a twisted ankle changes our perception. We also take going to the bathroom for granted. For those who don’t suffer from light bladder leaks, bathroom breaks are a breeze and likely have been since the age of two. For those that do find themselves faced with bladder leaks, suddenly the engrained potty-training goes out the window against our will. While urinary incontinence is a common problem, a certain type of bladder leak occurs in older adults more frequently: functional incontinence.
What is Functional Incontinence?
According to the Continence Foundation of Australia, “Functional incontinence relates to physical, intellectual or environmental issues that can be a contributing cause of incontinence in a person with normal bladder function.” Basically, something is inhibiting a person from being able to “go”. The inhibitor(s) can be either internal like a medical condition, or external like the toilet being too far away, as we’ll discuss later on. Functional incontinence also occurs regardless of urinary system health, unlike other forms of urinary incontinence. It’s important to note that the term functional incontinence is used to describe both urinary and fecal incontinence.
Technically, people of every age and gender can experience functional incontinence. As we mentioned before, these kinds of leaks are related to the “physical, intellectual or environmental issues” a person may be faced with. Let’s take a look at what these mean:
Physical: A person may be physically unable to reach the bathroom without assistance. For example, those with arthritis may find it difficult to unbutton pants in time to go, or someone with a physical disability may need assistance.
Intellectual: Individuals with an intellectual or mental illness may not be able to properly communicate the need to go or may not feel the need to at all. This is commonly seen in patients with dementia, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s. In addition, certain medications may increase the need to go in some, making leaks more common.
Environmental: A person may just have difficulty making it to a bathroom in time! Mobility becomes more difficult as we age, and being unable to find or make it to the restroom in time may result in an accident.
Even with a completely healthy urinary and bowel system, certain individuals are still at risk of developing bladder or bowel incontinence that is difficult to control and find help for.
Functional incontinence can be frustrating and embarrassing for those experiencing it and loved ones acting as caretakers. Of course, there are several steps individuals can take to help reduce the number of leaks experienced as a result of functional incontinence.
- Go on a schedule. This voids the bladder and bowel before a leak occurs.
- Keep the pathway to the bathroom clear. Try to avoid rugs or furniture in the way of the bathroom. Certain adjustments in the home may need to be made so that the individual can make it to a closer restroom. Some families that are acting as caregivers allow loved ones to reside in whatever room is closest to the restroom.
- Leave a light on in the bathroom and keep the door open so that it is easy to find and access.
- When dressing, opt for pants and other bottoms that are loose and have an elastic band so that they are easy to get on and off.
- Incontinence pads and liners or undergarments can be worn to help absorb urine leaks throughout the day. Bed pads are also an option for those that are less mobile. These kinds of products must be changed several times throughout the day to avoid irritation and infection.
If you find yourself in a caregiver position, it may feel difficult and awkward at first to assist someone in the bathroom, but it’s likely that the person you’re helping feels just as awkward and uncomfortable. Assisting people with functional incontinence means treating them with dignity and allowing appropriate privacy.
Normalizing Bladder Leaks
Yes, functional urinary incontinence is both frustrating and embarrassing, but it does happen. For some, light bladder leaks have become a part of daily life. In fact, some kind of urinary incontinence affects an estimated 25 million Americans. That’s why women’s health company Rinovum is working to normalize conversations about light bladder leaks. Rinovum has researched and developed a new bladder support device called Revive® designed for women suffering from SUI or stress urinary incontinence. Rinovum aims to help the nearly one in three women across the US suffering from leaks, by providing support and information.