We often think that urinary incontinence (UI) happens only to the elderly, but it can affect people of all ages. The health of your bladder depends on various factors, including weight, overall well-being, genetics, and illnesses.
Managing urinary incontinence as you age is possible, as long as you take the time to get to know your urinary tract and what affects it the most. This condition is usually a signal that something else in your metabolism isn’t working properly, and your bladder is taking the brunt of the blow. Let’s take a closer look at what UI is and what you can do to manage it so that you can live your life to the fullest.
What does it mean to have urinary incontinence?
Incontinence is a scary word that nobody wants to be associated with. Here, it’s important to get rid of the stigma and realize that millions of people live normal, active lives with UI.
As you age, the muscles and valves in your bladder and pelvic floor gradually stiffen and weaken, which makes them less sensitive. This means that over time, it gets harder for your bladder to “understand” that it’s full and it can’t keep the fluid in, so leakage of various levels can happen.
Incontinence doesn’t always mean involuntary urination, which is dreaded the most. There are different types of this condition that affect people from all walks of life, and some of them are less disruptive than others.
Types of Urinary Incontinence
There are four types of incontinence you should know about so that you can ask your doctor the right questions.
Urge incontinence is also called an overactive bladder and as the name states, it means that a person is prone to sudden and frequent urge to urinate, and leakage happens soon after. There are many health issues that can cause urge incontinence, including diabetes, obesity, strong medication, neurological disorders, and smoking.
Total incontinence is the most acute type of urinary incontinence and it means the complete loss of bladder control. In total incontinence, the bladder can’t hold any urine, so the passing of it is constant. This condition is usually a consequence of impaired nerve function that happens due to injuries and neurological disorders.
Because it mostly happens to the elderly, these people usually require extra attention and professional help. That’s why the best way of caring for the elderly with incontinence is to have someone to teach you the best practices or have a health worker help you with everything you need.
Stress incontinence happens when your pelvic floor can’t hold urine when exposed to physical stress. This can happen to people of all ages, even athletes, who constantly work out and push their limits. If you’ve ever experienced leakage after a strenuous workout or when you laugh or sneeze, that’s stress incontinence. It’s much easier to predict and mitigate than all other types of incontinence and most people deal with it at some point in their lives.
Overflow incontinence is a condition in which you can’t completely empty your bladder, so the urge to urinate is near-constant, and because the bladder gets too full, leakage still happens. This can happen if there are some blockages around the urethra that don’t allow it to empty or if the pelvic floor muscles are weak.
When incontinence is mentioned, most people think about total incontinence, but as you can see, this condition is a spectrum rather than one single thing. That’s why it’s so important to keep tabs on it with your urologist and find ways to make it better and maybe even fix it completely.
Ways to Manage Urinary Incontinence
Having some level of urinary incontinence doesn’t mean that life as you know it is over. There might be adjustments you’ll need to incorporate into your daily routine, but once you do that, you can still be as active as you’ve always been. Here are some of the best and foolproof ways to manage urinary incontinence as you get older.
Keep Your Mental Health in Check
If you’re diagnosed with urinary incontinence, it’s paramount to stay on top of your mental health as you’re getting used to a new way of life. It’s easy to become withdrawn and wary of spending a lot of time in public, which can cause the quality of your life to decline significantly. While this might feel like the easiest way to deal with the problem, it’s not the best.
Your urologist will suggest lifestyle changes that could help you get rid of incontinence altogether, and while you’re in that process, remember to take care of your mental health as well. Staying calm, collected, and aware will allow you to adjust and heal more quickly, which is the ultimate goal.
Take Care of Your Body
One of the first things your doctor will tell you when you’re dealing with any kind of health problem is to take a good look at your everyday habits and overall fitness. Smoking, alcohol, and caffeine should be the first to go when you’re dealing with any kind of UI.
After that, you should work on having a balanced diet and getting plenty of physical activity throughout the week. Obesity is a significant risk factor for urinary incontinence, so losing excess weight could come a long way. Don’t forget that the body is a perfect system, and when you improve one aspect of your health, the entire metabolism benefits from it.
Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor
We’ve all heard of Kegel exercises and they can be of great help on your path to recovery from incontinence. Doing Kegels regularly will strengthen the muscles of your pelvic floor, which will make it easier for your bladder to keep urine inside, where it belongs, until you decide it’s time to empty it.
It’s generally recommended to do these exercises even when you don’t have urinary problems, but if you start when you’re first diagnosed, remember that it will take a few months before you notice improvements. Don’t give up though, your effort will pay off.
Dedicate Time to Bladder Training
A healthy person urinates anywhere from 6–10 times every day, and anything above that can disrupt your everyday life. When you’re living with a UI, the pestering urge to urinate will make you go to the bathroom much more frequently. If you find yourself looking for a restroom every 15 minutes, bladder training can help.
Bladder training means creating a bathroom schedule and only going to urinate at appointed times. You should try not to void your bladder in between the timeslots, which might be difficult in the beginning. Start off slowly with more frequent visits to the bathroom, and as you get the hang of it, you can add more time in between the time slots and train your bladder to only void at certain times of the day. This is one of the most effective tools against UI and it’s worth dedicating time to it.
Living with urinary incontinence and managing dementia as your age on a day-to-day basis without diminishing the quality of life is definitely possible. Be patient and gentle with yourself and when in doubt, ask for help, be it your family members, friends, urologist, or all of the above. Urinary incontinence is nothing to be ashamed of and as you learn to manage it, you’ll learn that your life is still your own, it’s just the conditions that have changed.
Olivia’s journey began when she pursued her nursing degree where she developed a deep understanding of the intricacies involved in caring for the elderly. During her time as a nursing intern, she witnessed the challenges faced by both patients and their families, sparking her desire to make a difference through her writing.