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Caregiver Training Blog

Urinary Incontinence: A Guide for Caregivers of Elders

More than half of seniors suffer from urinary incontinence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While many people accept incontinence as part of the "normal" aging process, the truth is that there are many ways to treat and even cure the problem. Let's take a closer look at this common issue, along with ways elder caregivers can help their loved ones manage and even overcome urinary incontinence.

Elder caregivers

Treating urinary incontinence can lead to significant improvements in quality of life.

Causes of Urinary Incontinence

Incontinence has no single cause. In fact, it is linked to a number of causes ranging from excess caffeine intake to inflammation of the bladder wall. Incontinence can also be brought on by Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, and other diseases. Pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause can all play a role in the onset of urinary incontinence in women, while prostate problems may lead to urination problems in men. While some of these causes are simple, others indicate more severe underlying factors.

Types of Urinary Incontinence

Urge incontinence, AKA "overactive bladder," is the most common diagnosis in seniors, and occurs when the patient loses urine before getting to the toilet. Doctors attribute this to involuntary bladder contractions, which can be caused by constipation, strokes, dementia, certain diseases, and injuries. It is also associated with prostate enlargement in men and pelvic floor atrophy in women.

Other types of urinary incontinence include stress incontinence, in which abdominal pressure interferes with the bladder's closing pressure; overflow incontinence, in which the bladder never fully empties; and functional incontinence, which is caused by other disabilities which inhibit normal, timely bathroom use. In cases of mixed incontinence, patients may experience two or more of these types.

Diagnosing Urinary Incontinence

While many seniors are embarrassed about seeing a doctor, doing so is very important. Why? Because urinary incontinence is largely treatable.

During your aging loved one's visit, the doctor may check for a number of issues, including blood in the urine and decreases in kidney function. The doctor may also conduct a complete medical exam in addition to taking a medical history.

Your aging loved one may also be asked to maintain a "bladder diary" to help the doctor fully understand the situation.

Depending on the results of the visit, additional testing may be required.

Treating Urinary Incontinence

Behavioral therapy is typically the first line of defense in treating urinary incontinence. This may include everything from pelvic floor muscle exercises to timed voiding. Biofeedback and lifestyle changes, including fluid and diet management, are also effective non-surgical treatments.

Medication may also be useful in treating urinary incontinence. Typical medications include anticholinergic or antispasmodic drugs, hormone replacement, antibiotics and urethral inserts. Additional medical devices, including urethral inserts and pessaries, may be prescribed for women.

When all other treatment options fail, your healthcare provider may suggest surgical treatments.

Elder caregivers

A doctor can play an important role in helping to diagnose and treat urinary incontinence.

Care Tips for Caregivers

Caregivers of elders can help loved ones who suffer from urinary incontinence by keeping the area clean and dry by providing proper pericare. Wash skin that has come into contact with urine with gentle soap before patting skin to remove moisture in order to prevent rashes and odor problems. 

Pads and other protective garments offer additional peace of mind as well while protecting clothing and furniture.

Lastly, minimize slip-and-fall risks by making sure bathroom access is safe and easy.

There's no reason for bladder control to interfere with everyday activities and quality of life. A conversation with an aging loved one's healthcare provider can help patients and caregivers learn valuable options for controlling or curing urinary incontinence. mmLearn.org offers a large library of free videos for caregivers of older adults, covering topics pertaining to senior care. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a family caregiver, if you are caring for an older adult we know that you will find mmLearn.org an essential learning and guidance tool for all of your caregiver training needs.

If you're looking for a comprehensive resource for family caregivers, check out our online Family Caregiver Guide.family caregiver guide download