What is functional incontinence?

Functional occurs when someone is unable to move quickly enough to reach the toilet when feeling the need to urinate due to physical or psychological causes.

Functional incontinence causes

This type of occurs as a result of something else happening in your body or mind – be it musculoskeletal issues, neurological issues, or issues that affect our ability to think and communicate as we usually would, such as mental health or memory issues. 
These issues can result in realising the need for the toilet too late, being too slow at reaching the toilet, being unable to remove clothes with ease, or even ignoring one’s own need for the toilet.
Past studies have shown that musculoskeletal disorders can affect incontinence, but a lack of bladder control can also occur as a result of an undiagnosed issue, such as back pain.
Functional incontinence can also be affected by neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis. Further complicating this issue, public toilet facilities are not always easy to get to, or may not be properly set up for people with disabilities.
Meanwhile, reduced vision can impact someone adequately seeing where they’re going en route to the toilet, then struggling to find their way to the actual toilet once they’ve entered the room. Reduced mobility can also result in functional incontinence with those affected potentially have to use walking aids resulting in a longer trip to the toilet, while their ability to take their clothes off quickly enough before urinating can be a challenge.
Functional incontinence isn’t just caused by physical problems, however – it can result from problems with thinking or communicating. For example, a person with Alzheimer’s disease, mental confusion or dementia may not recognise the urge to urinate, or may find it difficult to locate their own bathroom. Or, someone suffering from severe depression or anxiety may lose the desire to care for themselves, and lose all motivation to go to the toilet.

How to treat functional incontinence

When it comes to functional treatment, it is often a case of treating the medical conditions that cause or contribute to the problem. For example, the right treatment for arthritis may help the problem of getting to the bathroom quickly.
Treating functional incontinence also requires assessing one’s surroundings to ensure that they are accessible. This can be done in a number of simple ways, such as:
  • Ensure your bathroom at home is easily accessible and that the route is clear, without any objects in the way
  • Implement adequate lighting both on the route to the toilet as well as inside it including switches that are easily located, and clearly label the door with a different colour
  • When out of the house, make an effort to know where the closest toilets are, to avoid wasting time asking for directions
  • Wear easily removable clothing – for example, if arthritis in your hands makes trouser zippers difficult, wear trousers with elastic waists
  • If you struggle transferring from a wheelchair to a toilet, try to have someone with you who can help
Kegel exercises and bladder training can also help manage general incontinence.
We understand that it can sometimes feel like incontinence is unbeatable, but TENA products can help you to manage it effectively. Have a look on the following pages to find out more about incontinence, and pick the product that is best suited to you: