While the subject of incontinence may seem taboo to the common public, it’s an all too prevalent reality for many seniors. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in 2014 that over half of all seniors over 65 experience some form or incontinence, making it an issue that is absolutely worth discussion. When not properly managed, incontinence can be dangerous to both physical health and emotional confidence.
What is Urinary Incontinence?
Simply put, urinary incontinence is any loss of bladder control. It can result from bladder muscles weakening with age, neurogenic effects of diseases like multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s, prostate problems, nerve damage, infection, the list goes on. It’s not just “accidents” which define incontinence either. An urge to urinate, an inability to fully empty the bladder, as well as overflow leaks can be troubling incontinence issues people face as well.
Tips for Managing Incontinence
For seniors and their caregivers, managing incontinence may require just a few simple tools and updated habits.
Form a routine – a schedule with which you take medicine, eat meals, and use the restroom can both provide structure to your day as well as help keep your bladder on track. While frequent hydration is important, if you adhere to a rough routine for drinking and toileting around the same times of day, it may be easier to choose windows of time for popping out to run errands or meet up with friends.
Use a bedside commode – when an urgency to urinate comes in the middle of the night, many seniors find themselves clamoring out of bed, struggling to turn lights on, possibly having to grab a mobility aid and still make it to the bathroom in time. Bedside commodes are portable, convenient equipment for patients with mobility issues that remove the stress of nighttime urination and allow seniors to safely go within a few feet of their bed.
Pick the right briefs for you – not all briefs (adult diapers) are made equal and what works for one senior may not be the right fit for another. Also called disposable underwear or undergarments, adult briefs offer multiple levels of protection (i.e. for minimal leaks or larger volume accidents) and come in a variety of discreet designs. Look in your local pharmacy, big box store, or online to find the right ones for you.
Recognize signs of infection – incontinence issues can put you at a higher risk of developing urinary tract infections (UTIs) and vice versa. When bacteria isn’t fully flushed out of the bladder or if it travels up from soiled clothes or briefs into the urethra, it can multiply and spread. Left untreated, UTIs can lead to life-threatening complications that land a senior in the hospital. Seniors and their caregivers should be on the lookout for signs of UTI including:
Confusion and disorientation
Urine that is cloudy/has a strong odor
Pelvic and lower abdomen pain
Frequent urination and urge to urinate
Discolored urine (pink) that may indicate presence of blood
Burning sensation when urinating
Fever and/or chills
Nausea and/or vomiting
Catching a UTI before it spreads up the ureters to the kidneys can help you or the senior you care for get treatment quickly and avoid painful and life-threatening complications.
Highlighting Hygiene – hygiene plays an important role in both the prevention of urinary tract infection and pressure ulcers as well as in keeping a senior fresh and confident. For bed or chair-limited seniors who are at higher risk for developing pressure ulcers (bedsores), skin that is continuously in contact with moisture and contaminants from urine or bowel movements is extra vulnerable. Regular hygienic practices by caregivers including routinely cleaning and drying affected areas as well as putting barrier creams over pressure points (like the tailbone) can go a long way to protecting against skin breakdown.
Incontinence issues can feel shameful and embarrassing for seniors and even contribute to social isolation, anxiety, and depression. With simple management techniques and help from doctors, caregivers, and assistive equipment, however, seniors can take control of their incontinence problems and continue to enjoy a sense of normality in their lives.