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What leads to urinary incontinence in the elderly?

While urinary incontinence has a wide range of potential causes regardless of age, it becomes more common the older we get. Urinary incontinence can be caused by risk factors such as ageing, a genetic link in one’s family, and having lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS).

Is urinary incontinence a normal part of ageing?

Urinary incontinence is particularly common in people over the age of 80. Although it isn’t an automatic part of normal ageing, there are things happening in the body as it gets older which makes incontinence more likely.
 
• As we age the muscles in and around our bladder are more likely to lose tone, which means they are weaker. When they are weaker, the bladder can’t contract and squeeze so well, and so it might not empty completely – and the internal sphincter, which links the bladder and the urethra, may not close properly.
 
• With age, the bladder’s capacity generally drops from about 500ml to about 250ml. This means that the reflex to empty the bladder is triggered when it’s closer to being full, giving an elderly person less warning time to get to the toilet. 
 
• The kidneys may not absorb water back into the body as efficiently with ageing, leading to more urine being produced – especially at night. So it’s quite normal for an elderly person to need the toilet once or twice a night.
 
• Changes in women’s bodies during the menopause can also increase the risk of urinary incontinence. 
 
• Elderly people are more at risk of urinary tract infections, which can make urge incontinence more likely.

What else can cause urinary incontinence in elderly people?

As well as these widespread issues, elderly people are also susceptible to other conditions that may mean incontinence is a bit more of a risk:
 
• Chronic illnesses, general impairments and progressive conditions like dementia can affect the body’s ability to function normally
 
• Diuretic medication (sometimes given to people with high blood pressure) encourage the body to produce more water, which leads to more urine (so urge incontinence becomes more of a risk)
 
• Sedatives can slow down the signals from the bladder to the brain, increasing the risk of not getting to the toilet in time. They might also cause confusion

How can you manage the issue?

It’s really important to try and understand why incontinence is happening, as it can be handled in different ways depending on what is causing the problem.
 
Start by talking to a doctor and have as much information as possible to hand (like medical history, any medicines currently being taken) to get a proper diagnosis.
 
There are all sorts of options for treatment: 
 
• Good toilet habits can help to lower the risk of incontinence. Making sure someone can be comfortable and get to the toilet easily are important – aids like handrails or an elevated toilet could help
 
• Pelvic floor exercises will help to strengthen the muscles in and around the bladder, helping the person to have better control of it
 
• Drinking less in the evening can help to avoid toilet visits at night
 
• High alcohol and caffeine intake can also cause incontinence and can be easily avoided, so limiting intake of these substances and drinking more fluids can lower chances of suffering from stress incontinence
 
Different incontinence products like pads and pants are designed to manage day-to-day urinary incontinence, helping to keep people comfortable and secure.
 
Depending on the root cause of incontinence, there are more specific types of treatment. For example, incontinence caused by decreased oestrogen levels can be treated with different forms of oestrogen (such as creams and vaginal suppositories).
It’s vital to talk to your doctor before making any changes to medication. 
 
Depending on the severity of incontinence, there are a range of TENA pants available for moderate to heavy bladder leakage in both men, women and unisex designs.
 
To learn more about incontinence aids for the elderly, check out the TENA aging and incontinence section. For more information on causes and how to manage incontinence, check out lights by TENA for those little leaks and TENA Lady to fight bladder leakage.
To discover more about what can trigger incontinence in males, have a look on Tena Men.

Tips for different types of incontinence

Have you read our Types of Incontinence section? It describes some of the most common kinds of bladder weakness. You should be able to find one that matches your loved one’s condition. 
 
Below are professional tips to help you deal with her or his specific type.