Managing Your Incontinence with Grace and Dignity

By Michelle Cemental

Are you struggling with incontinence? Perhaps you have been living with it for some time, but you're not sure what to do about it. Since becoming toilet trained as a small child, it never occurs to us that we might leak when we sneeze or laugh, or that we might not be able to get to the bathroom in time. Most people who are incontinent are embarrassed to tell anyone about it, even trusted doctors, family, and friends. It's not an easy thing to talk about. You may feel angry, frustrated, frightened, or even ashamed, but you are not alone.

Anyone, at any age, can become incontinent, but it is more common in older adults. The National Association for Continence reports that 1 in 5 people over the age of 40 suffer from incontinence issues. It is not a failure. Your body is simply going through changes. It helps to understand more about incontinence and coping strategies 

Common Causes of Incontinence

Incontinence has many causes, such as urinary tract infections, vaginal infections, constipation, or certain medications. When incontinence persists, it may be due to:

  • Weak bladder or pelvic floor muscles
  • Pelvic organ prolapse
  • Overactive bladder muscles
  • Nerve damage from diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, or diabetes.

The prevalence of incontinence is much lower in men than in women. Common causes of male incontinence include:

  • Prostatitis, which is swelling and inflammation of the prostate gland
  • Damage or injury to the muscles and nerves as a result of surgery
  • An enlarged prostate gland, a common condition as men age

Types of Urinary Incontinence

There are different types of incontinence:

  • Urge incontinence happens when people need to urinate badly but cannot hold on long enough to get to the toilet.
  • Overflow incontinence happens when a full bladder leaks small amounts of urine. A man may have trouble emptying his bladder due to an enlarged prostate gland. 
  • Stress incontinence is leakage from pressure on the bladder. It may occur during exercise, or when coughing, sneezing or laughing. In women, it often starts around the time of menopause.
  • Functional incontinence can happen to people who have normal bladder control. However, some people are not able to move quickly and cannot get to the bathroom fast enough.

Diagnosing & Treating Incontinence 

Obtaining treatment for any incontinence problem starts with your doctor. The doctor will take a medical history, perform a physical exam, and perform a number of routine tests. The doctor may also refer you to a urologist, who specializes in urinary tract problems.

There are many treatments for incontinence. The doctor will recommend a treatment based on the type of problem you have, and what treatment best fits your lifestyle. Your doctor may suggest the following:

  • Pelvic muscle exercises (also known as Kegel exercises). These exercises make the muscles stronger and help you hold in your urine longer.
  • Biofeedback helps make you aware of signals from your body.
  • Timed voiding is simply urinating on a set schedule, slowing extending the time between each urination.
  • Lifestyle changes may also help with incontinence, as well as improve your overall health. Losing weight, reducing or eliminating smoking and alcohol, and reducing the amount of caffeine in your diet may help control your incontinence.

Bowel Incontinence

Bowel incontinence is more common than you might think; however, people are even more reluctant to talk about it than they are urinary incontinence. Bowel Incontinence often presents additional challenges. These may include odor and problems with cleaning up after an accident.

At some point, many seniors need help with these tasks. Talking directly and openly about these challenges, using appropriate language, can alleviate some of the discomforts of the situation. Depending on the cause of the bowel incontinence, the doctor may recommend medication, dietary changes, exercise, biofeedback, or in some cases, surgery.

Coping Strategies

For most people, incontinence is not easy to discuss. Our feelings on the subject usually date back to childhood. Talking about it is awkward, perhaps even taboo.  But it is the first step to getting help. There are many ways to manage and treat incontinence in order to help seniors live full and happy lives.  

  • If you have an incontinence problem, you may be reluctant to go out, or engage in activities, because you may not be able to locate or access a bathroom when needed. Carrying protection with you, such as pads or extra underwear, can give you confidence. Also, speak up, without defensiveness or apology, when you need to stop and find a bathroom.
  • Today there are many products to help deal with incontinence. Many of them offer the privacy and convenience of home delivery. Available products include pads, adult incontinence underwear, plastic furniture covers, commodes and more. Your physician, pharmacist, or occupational therapist may be able to suggest the best products for your lifestyle.
  • Understanding incontinence, its causes, and possible treatments can help you maintain a good quality of life. Talking with caregivers and others about your challenges and needs helps to normalize the situation. Removing the stigma of incontinence benefits seniors and caregivers alike.  Together you can work towards solutions to the physical and emotional problems that come with incontinence.  

Talking about incontinence is the key to finding a solution. The solution may be a visit to the doctor, arranging a better bathroom schedule, or finding the right products. An experienced and compassionate caregiver offers protection and support. The caregiver can suggest ways to deal with the problems of incontinence while maintaining the privacy and independence of the senior. They can help seniors change incontinence from an insurmountable barrier into a simple fact of life, to be planned for and managed. By doing so, caregivers help to create positive attitudes and environments that cultivate happiness and well-being for the seniors in their care.

If you are seeking a caring and supportive environment for your loved one, contact a Caring team near you today. 

Tags: Incontinence