Urinary incontinence is the inability to hold urine in the bladder and occurs when the muscles and nerves associated with the bladder are unable to hold or appropriately release urine.
Women are twice as likely to experience incontinence as men. Incontinence in the elderly is a sensitive issue and can be an embarrassment for both the sufferer and their carer as neither may find it easy to talk about this very personal problem, resulting in the help needed not being forthcoming.
Causes can include:
- Hyperglycaemia (high blood glucose levels) can cause thirst and increase urination
- Urinary tract infections
- Physical changes in bladder muscles. (eg after menopause)
- Enlarged prostate gland
- Damage to the nerves caused by other nerve conditions such as multiple sclerosis or diabetic neuropathy
There are different types of incontinence
- Stress incontinence which is when some urine loss occurs when coughing, laughing or during exercise.
- Urge incontinence which is the sudden need to pass urine and then the loss of a larger amount of urine.
- Mixed incontinence which is a combination of the above.
- An overactive bladder occurs when the nerves send the wrong signals to the bladder causing urgency, frequency and incontinence, sometimes at night.
- Functional incontinence occurs as a result of the difficulties in managing toilet needs associated with other physical or mental illnesses.
There are a number of treatments and interventions available depending on the type of incontinence and can range from pelvic floor exercises to medication. Weight loss (if appropriate) and improved diabetes control can help too.
The person’s doctor should always be made aware of any problems with incontinence and what measures have been taken to resolve the problem.
Reviewed March 2010
Next review September 2011