The human urinary system helps filter the blood and removes waste and extra fluid from the body. Plus, it maintains the body’s complicated internal chemical balance. The bladder, an integral part of the urinary system, is a hollow, balloon-like organ that stores the excess water and waste until the body is ready to get rid of it. As we age, the bladder changes, like many other parts of the body, causing health challenges. In this post, we will outline common bladder issues that seniors face along with tips for maintaining a healthy bladder.
Common Bladder Issues
Some seniors may experience a toughening of the elastic bladder tissue, causing it to lose elasticity. When this happens, the bladder can't hold as much urine as it used to, making trips to the bathroom more frequent.
A senior's bladder wall and pelvic floor muscles may also weaken over time, which makes fully emptying the bladder more difficult, potentially causing leaks.
Urinary Tract Infections
Aging loved ones may experience urinary tract infections (UTIs). An infection can happen anywhere in the urinary system, including the bladder, kidney, and/or urethra. Senior women are more prone to get more UTIs than senior men because of generally weaker bladder muscles.
It is important to be aware of the signs of a UTI because, if left untreated, permanent kidney damage can occur. Signs of infection include:
- A strong and persistent urge to go
- A burning sensation when urinating
- Frequent bathroom visits with little to no production
- Strong smelling, cloudy, and/or red, bright pink, or dark brown tinted urine
- Pelvic pain in women
Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms
Though more prevalent in senior men, women can also be affected by lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS). Those most prone to developing LUTS are individuals who have also been diagnosed with an enlarged prostate, overactive bladder, interstitial cystitis, or prostatitis.
Common signs of LUTS include the following symptoms:
- Hesitancy, or the urge to go although the flow doesn't start immediately
- Weak and/or intermittent stream
- Straining to start or continue urination
- A feeling that the bladder is still full after urination
Good Nutrition for Bladder Health
Having a healthy diet and lifestyle is key in maintaining overall health, but certain foods and drinks can actually help promote healthy bladder function. Some foods are great at staving off UTIs while others can be helpful for those with a sensitive bladder.
Let’s review some foods that help promote a healthy urinary system.
- Berries: Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries are full of flavanol, which helps to fight off infections.
- Cranberry juice: When taken on a consistent basis, cranberry juice and cranberry supplements have positive effects on the urinary tract and has been shown to reduce the number of infections over time.
- Yogurt: Yogurt contains probiotics, which are known for the positive benefits they have on the gut. However, probiotics are also beneficial for urinary tract health because they help fight infection and prevent bladder cancer.
- Garlic: Supplements and fresh or powdered garlic can go a long way in bladder health. Garlic has been shown to reduce inflammation in the bladder and kidneys as well as prevent the development and growth of cancer cells.
- Whole grains: Brown rice, whole wheat bread, and whole wheat pasta contain fiber, which is key in maintaining digestive and urinary health.
- Protein: Lean meats and protein-rich foods, like nuts, peanut butter, and whey, are crucial in muscle maintenance and hormone regulation. They help prevent poor muscle functionality in the pelvic floor and bladder walls.
- Celery: This vegetable can potentially reduce uric acid, which is a leading cause of discomfort before and during urination.
- Apple cider vinegar: The enzymes, potassium, and other minerals found in apple cider vinegar prohibit the growth of bacteria in the urinary tract, making it helpful in treating an infection. Just add a couple of tablespoons to a glass of water to experience the many benefits of apple cider vinegar.
In addition to the specific foods mentioned above, pears, bananas, green beans, winter squash, potatoes, lean proteins, whole grains, breads, nuts, and eggs all likely to have a soothing effect on those with sensitive bladders. You or an aging loved one may also want to consult with a doctor for specific treatment options.
There are also some foods that seniors with bladder problems should avoid. These may include the following:
- Caffeinated drinks: Drinks like coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks are infamous for upsetting sensitive bladders.
- Acidic foods: Citrus fruits, tomato-based products, and artificial sweeteners may irritate the urinary system. Seniors should reduce their intake of acidic foods and drinks.
- Alcohol: Alcohol is a diuretic, which may cause seniors to need to use the restroom tomorrow.
- Spicy food: Spicy foods can irritate the lining in the bladder and potentially cause pain.
Lifestyle Factors Affecting Bladder Health
As we age, it can be more difficult to maintain healthy lifestyle choices that promote bladder health. Here are some lifestyle factors that seniors should be aware of to help maintain a healthy urinary system.
- Constipation: Constipation is a buildup of stool in the colon, which can put pressure on the bladder and prevent it from expanding normally.
- Diabetes: Diabetes sometimes damages nerves near and around the bladder, making bladder control difficult.
- Excess weight: Seniors who are overweight are often at risk for leakage. Seniors should work to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
- Sedentary habits: In addition to maintaining a healthy weight, physical activity can help prevent bladder issues and constipation. Check out a few physical activities for seniors.
- Smoking: Bladder issues, including cancer, are more common in smokers than non-smokers. Seniors should give up smoking and avoid the habit.
- Medication: Some medications can dull the nerves in the bladder, making it harder to feel the urge to go and causing leakage.
- Pelvic injury or trauma: Prostate surgery, childbirth, or assault can potentially damage the muscles and nerves that make the bladder function properly.
- Catheter: If not properly maintained, a catheter tube provides a direct path for bacteria to reach the bladder.
- Sexual activity: Sexual activity can relocate harmful bacteria to the urethra. However, urinating afterward greatly lowers the risks of infection.
When to Seek the Help of a Healthcare Provider
If your loved one experiences any of the signs of a UTI or LUTS, encourage them to talk to a healthcare provider. The good news is that bladder and urinary problems are usually easily diagnosed and often treatable. Common methods of diagnosis are physical external and/or internal examination, urine sample testing, bladder leakage testing, and ultrasound.
To treat urinary tract problems, medical professionals may suggest medicine, surgery, and/or lifestyle changes, like a special diet and exercises. Drinking lots of fluids and urinating often may also speed up the healing process.
The best medicine is prevention. At Caring Senior Service, our homecare professionals work with seniors and their families to maintain healthy habits. Our services are tailored to meet your care needs. For assistance with helping seniors stay healthy, contact us today.