Many older adults who struggle with incontinence don’t seek help because they are either too embarrassed by the condition, or they assume it is a normal part of aging. According to Dr. Savleen Juneja, Kendal at Lexington’s Director of Rehab, not only is incontinence nothing to be embarrassed about, but it also isn’t a normal part of aging.
“It is hard to discuss,” she says. “It’s a topic people don’t like to talk about. But it’s a very common thing — just not a common process for aging.”
Incontinence is so prevalent in older adults that the Center for Disease Control estimates that it affects more than 50 percent of Americans over 65 years of age. Yet, despite incontinence being common for seniors, it doesn’t have to be “just part of getting older.” In fact, Dr. Juneja says that around 80 percent of all incontinence cases can be improved or cured with therapy.
But let’s back up. What is incontinence and what causes it?
The 2 Most Common Types of Incontinence
Incontinence is defined as the involuntary loss of urine that is sufficient enough to become a problem. There are a few different types of incontinence, but two are more common than others: stress incontinence and urgency incontinence.
Stress incontinence is when the muscles and tissues around the urethra (where the urine exits) do not stay closed properly. This occurs when there is sudden pressure in the abdomen, such as when you laugh, cough or jump.
Urgency incontinence is when you experience a sudden and then overwhelming urge to urinate, which often leads to leaks. This type of incontinence can be caused or worsened by any medical problem or medication.
What to Do If You Are Experiencing Incontinence
If the above descriptions sound familiar, it’s probably time to talk to your healthcare provider. Dr. Juneja encourages incontinence suffers to go to their doctor prepared with the answers to the following questions:
- When do you leak? Is it more commonly when something happens — like a sneeze or a hearty laugh — or when you can’t get to the bathroom fast enough?
- When did your leakage begin?
- Has it worsened over time?
- Are you taking any medications that might worsen the problem? Diuretics, sleeping pills, decongestants and anti-depressants can all contribute to incontinence.
- Have you experienced pelvic floor weakness? This is often caused by chronic constipation, repetitive heavy lifting or being overweight.
After speaking with your healthcare provider, Dr. Juneja encourages all sufferers of incontinence to then seek out therapy to attempt to reduce or cure the problem. The first thing your therapist will do is work with you on strategies for incontinence control, like looking at your environment and clothing for any necessary adaptations.
“If there are any obstacles in the path of the bathroom, those need to be cleared so the patient can safely get to the bathroom as quick as possible,” Dr. Juneja says. “If the patient frequently wears jeans and struggles to unbutton the jean or use the zipper, we will also look at clothing adaptations.”
A therapist may work with you to improve your nighttime environment, especially if a bedside commode or bedside rails might make successful bathroom trips more accessible. There are also certain foods and beverages — like alcohol, caffeinated drinks, citrus, sugar and milk products — that contribute to bladder leakage, so your therapist may also discuss your diet with you.
Beyond environmental changes, therapy can also help with the physical symptoms and reactions to incontinence. Therapists can help you with pelvic floor muscle exercises to improve urethra contractions and better support the pelvic structures, as well as relaxation techniques to better coordinate your abdominal wall muscles and pelvic floor muscles.
Incontinence is Nothing to Be Ashamed Of
Above all, remember that while incontinence is common, it doesn’t have to be a common part of aging — and there are ways to improve or cure involuntary leakage.
“Seeking professional advice to analyze your unique situation can often result in simple solutions. Therapists can evaluate, treat and educate people who are at risk or who are currently experiencing any kind of urinary incontinence,” Dr. Juneja says. “We can help you modify your habits and routines to promote a healthier lifestyle and minimize the progression of incontinence.”
There’s no reason to go on suffering when help is available. Kendal at Lexington offers both inpatient and outpatient professional therapy services. For more information, give us a call at 540-464-2630.