Senior woman experiencing bladder control problems in home.

Common Causes of Bladder Control Problems in Seniors

Bladder control problems are an unfortunate reality—and sometimes an embarrassing issue—for many older men and women. Symptoms, ranging from mild urine leaks to chronic wetting, may happen occasionally or possibly multiple times a day.

More than 50 percent of older Americans, mostly women, struggle with bladder control—also known as “urinary incontinence.” Although more common in older adults, urinary incontinence is not a normal part of healthy aging.

Types of Urinary Incontinence Seniors May Experience

Different classifications of urinary incontinence exist that may affect seniors. Common bladder control types include:

  • Stress incontinence
    Stress incontinence, which is urine leakage that occurs when pressure is on the bladder, may happen while exercising, coughing, laughing, sneezing, or lifting heavy objects. It is more common in women than men.

  • Urge incontinence
    Urge incontinence is urine leakage that happens when a person has a sudden urge to urinate and can’t make it to the restroom in time. It’s often associated with other health conditions, such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or stroke.

  • Overflow incontinence
    Overflow incontinence refers to small amounts of regular urine leakage that occur because of difficulties in fully emptying the bladder. This may take place if the urethra – the tube that carries urine out of the body – is blocked or narrowed, and may also be associated with conditions such as diabetes and nerve damage.

  • Functional incontinence
    Functional incontinence affects people with normal bladder control. However, certain conditions that limit a person’s ability to move well, such as arthritis, can prevent people with functional incontinence from making it to the restroom in time.

Common Causes of Bladder Problems for Seniors

Any number of underlying issues may cause bladder control problems, but the most common for seniors include:

  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
    Also called “bladder infections,” UTIs are more common in women than men but can affect either gender. UTIs occur when bacteria or viruses infect any part of the urinary tract—typically the urethra, bladder, or kidneys. They can make it difficult for a person to control their bladder because of pain, sudden or frequent urges to urinate, and bladder spasms. Urinary tract infections are more common in seniors than the general population and cause side effects such as delirium or disorientation.
  • Nervous system disorders
    Nerves send signals that tell your muscles when to contract and expand and are responsible for letting you know when your bladder is full. For people with damaged nervous systems, these functions may not be working correctly. This means a person may not be aware they have to urinate until it is too late. Nerves may also send signals at the wrong time and cause unintentional urine leakage. Conditions such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes can impact the nervous system.
  • Weakened muscles
    As a person ages, their muscles may become weakened. When this happens to the muscles around the bladder, it can lead to urinary incontinence. In women, the pelvic floor muscles–muscles that hold the bladder and other pelvic organs in place–can become weakened during pregnancy and childbirth, which may also lead to urinary incontinence.
  • Enlarged prostate
    In men, the prostate is an organ that sits around the urethra. As men age, the prostate may become enlarged or inflamed, causing the urethra to become narrowed. This can make it difficult to fully empty the bladder and could cause bladder control problems. Other prostate conditions, such as prostate cancer, may cause similar bladder control issues.
  • Medication and diet
    Certain medications, food, and drink may exacerbate bladder control problems. For example, caffeine and alcohol cause the body to produce more urine, which can cause an elderly person who already has difficulty making it to the restroom on time to have more accidental urine leakage.

How to Treat and Manage Bladder Problems for Seniors

While bladder control problems are common for older people, they can be a very stressful and embarrassing subject to discuss. There are ways to treat and manage bladder control problems to help your elderly loved one feel comfortable and confident again.

First, make sure you discuss these issues with your loved one’s doctor, who may recommend bladder training exercises, medication, surgical procedures, or lifestyle changes such as avoiding caffeine and alcohol.

Senior care can also be an important part of managing urinary incontinence for older adults. If you feel uncomfortable helping a loved one use the toilet properly, you may need professional home care services. Visiting Angels caregivers compassionately assist seniors in making it to the restroom on time while helping them maintain their dignity. Our personal caregivers will also remind your loved one to follow a doctor’s advice on diet, medication, and exercise, to help restore bladder control.

If you're interested in our compassionate home care services for you or a loved one, contact your nearest Visiting Angels home care agency today or call 800-365-4189.
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