Living with Incontinence

Living with Incontinence

By Jackie M. Bolt, President 

Carolina HomeCare Medical Equipment

Approximately 13 million Americans are incontinent.  85% of those are women.  Incontinence is most common among the elderly.  Many seniors with incontinence feel limited in their activities due to the possibility of loss of bladder control and these adults can experience isolation and loss of self-esteem.  It is possible to continue enjoying an active and full lifestyle with the right information and products. 

Some of the common causes of incontinence are:

  • Poor nutrition
  • Menopause and hormonal changes
  • Neuromuscular disorders and stroke
  • Obesity
  • Loss of pelvic muscle tone
  • Previous urinary tract or renal problems
  • Medication side effects
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Smoking and lung disease
  • Cognitive impairments (e.g. Alzheimer’s)
  • Urinary tract infection

There are six types of loss of bladder control (LOBC) or incontinence:

  • Stress:  this can be an involuntary loss of a few drops; leakage when laughing, coughing, sneezing, or exercising and is a common side effect of anxiety and pressure in our everyday lives.  This type is usually associated with light flow.
  • Urge:  symptoms can be rushing to the bathroom or frequent, strong and sudden urges but you cannot make it to the bathroom.  This level is associated with an overactive bladder (OAB).  This type is usually associated with medium flow.
  • Mixed:  a combination of two or more types, most commonly of Stress and Urge.   This type is usually associated with medium flow. 
  • Reflex:  urine loss with no warning; cannot tell the need to go.  This type is associated with heavy flow.
  • Overflow:  often constant dribbling of urine; frequency and urgency of urination increase; full bladder that never feels empty.  This type is associated with heavy flow.
  • Functional:  occurs when the urinary system may work well, but factors outside the urinary tract, such as immobility or cognitive impairment, can prevent a person from getting to a bathroom in time.  This type is associated with heavy flow.   

          It is important to discuss incontinence with your doctor, as incontinence is a symptom and not a disease itself.  Your doctor can help identify the type of incontinence and lay out a treatment plan to help with this issue.  The good news is there are ways incontinence can be treated and managed so that you can continue to pursue an active, happy lifestyle. 

        The following tips can help manage incontinence:

  • Limit or avoid caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea and sodas.  In a recent study, this decreased women’s incontinence symptoms by 61%.
  • Kegel, or pelvic floor, exercises can reduce or even prevent urinary leakage.  To do kegel exercises, tighten the same muscles you would use to stop the flow of urine, hold the contraction for 10 seconds, then relax.  Repeat 15 times for one set of Kegels.  Aim for three sets daily.
  • Try setting a regular schedule for toilet use.
  • Use protective products.  There are a variety of products that can allow you to continue your normal daily activities.   Shop for these products from a company that can help you choose what type of products you may need.  There are lots of different products on the market and they vary in sizing and absorbency levels.  It is important to choose the appropriate products to ensure that you can eliminate leakage and control odor.   In some cases, you will need different products for daytime use and nighttime use. You will choose your product based on occurrence, flow and mobility.  Sizing is also important in choosing products.  If a product is too big, it will leak and can also cause skin irritation. 

Learning about incontinence, its causes and tips to successfully manage the condition can help seniors continue to be active and enjoy a quality lifestyle.  The first step is to talk about your issue with your physician.  And as your physician maps out a treatment plan, find a healthcare provider that can help you choose the appropriate products for your type of incontinence.  By taking these steps, you can continue to enjoy a full life!