Home Conditions Aging How Does Urinary Incontinence Affect the Quality of Life of the Elderly?

How Does Urinary Incontinence Affect the Quality of Life of the Elderly?

A report done with the objective of investigating “the impact of urinary incontinence (UI) on health-related quality of life (QOL)…and to compare UI and non-UI elderly Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in managed care plans on the prevalence of depression and self-rated health” came to a fairly predictable conclusion.

The team doing the report indicated that “elderly patients with UI are more depressed and have worse perceived health. On certain domains of QOL, the negative impact of UI even surpasses that of other severe comorbidities.”

In other words, urinary incontinence made people depressed and feel they were in poor health, and sometimes had an even greater effect on them than other health issues they were suffering.

This, at first, seems odd. After all, urinary incontinence may not be impacting the body in a physical way, apart from any urge to urinate or the loss of control over urination. It does not weaken the body, cause tremendous pain or discomfort, or have a lot of other symptoms.

However, as Gladys Y. Ng, MD of UCLA Health Urology stated, “Urinary incontinence generally leads to a decreased quality of life. It can lead to depression and embarrassment due to leaking urine and smelling like urine. Sometimes, family members are unable to take care of incontinent family members, which is why they put them in institutions for care. Urinary incontinence also impacts clinical outcomes if there are ulcers in the area and if urine is leaking into wounds. Sometimes, if urine is leaking on the floor, it increases the risk for falls. Also, it can lead to sleep deprivation because of the awareness of leaking urine on the bed.”

It is also important to remember that it is not a condition itself, but a symptom of a condition. Whether it is as simple as muscle weakening in the pelvic floor as part of the aging process or another condition, it is caused by something. Often, the upset that the “symptom” causes, however, is worse for the individual than the issue actually impacting the body and its functions.

As another study explained, “Although not painful or life-threatening, urinary incontinence has an insidious way of affecting quality of life.” Yet, this same report pointed out that “Physicians who identify and treat urinary incontinence may be able to limit these deleterious effects for their patients.”

Understanding and Treating the Causes to Improve Quality of Life

Ask medical professionals and they tell you that there are several types of incontinence. Typically, they are describing bladder or urinary incontinence, though loss of bowel control is another form of incontinence (but one we are not focusing on here). The typical varieties of urinary incontinence include:

  • Stress – Due to a loss in muscle control and not to emotional stress, it is when the muscles of the pelvic floor weaken, the urethra cannot remain closed or urine leaks when pressure is applied to the area. Coughing, laughing, exercising, sexual activity and many other activities can cause such incontinence.
  • Urge – This is often called Overactive Bladder or OAD, and is experienced as an overwhelming need to urinate and may be due to nerve damage, muscle damage or nervous system issues. Those with MS, Parkinson’s or stroke victims often experience it, but its sources can also include infection, blockages, medications and more
  • Mixed – Usually the combination of urge and stress
  • Overflow – The inability to fully empty the bladder or to persistently dribble urine caused by nerve damage, constipation, weakened muscles, and more
  • Functional – Often experienced by those with dementia or with arthritis, and manifested as failing to reach the bathroom in time

As you can see, living with untreated nerve or muscle damage, infection, life-changing conditions like MS or arthritis are good reasons for elderly people to experience a lower quality of life. But, repeatedly soiling garments, experiencing embarrassing moments of incontinence, or living with the constant discomfort of urinary leakage on garments or furniture and bedding may make the individual feel far worse. It is simple logic, and so it is essential to address the situation with medical intervention straight away.

Treatments vary as widely as the causes of incontinence. As an example, many with stress and urge incontinence are evaluated and if no medical intervention is needed or possible, daily pelvic floor exercises are indicated as a good treatment. Bladder retraining (usually done by carefully timing fluid consumption and eliminating at the same times daily) is also effective for many. Changes in diet (eating more fiber, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, drinking more water), smoking cessation, and daily exercise can also be part of a method for treating at home.

Naturally, urge incontinence may require alternative treatments, and overflow incontinence is also one that typically results in medical intervention. The good news is that regardless of the effectiveness of any treatment, whether medical or at-home, there are many incontinence products that greatly improve the individual’s quality of life.

While there are a diversity of adult diapers and disposable underwear, there are also deodorants, skin care products, and pads that can vastly improve the quality of life. Catheters can also improve quality of life and offer complete control. The use of incontinence products can also ensure that the individual’s home life will be greatly improved through the use of simple options like the comfortable and healthy disposable underwear or adult diapers, the single or reusable pads for furniture, cars and beds, and more.

Whether you are in need of resources for your incontinence issues or a caregiver trying to help a loved one or patient with this issue, speak with them about the many treatment options. Start with a medical exam as soon as incontinence manifests. It may not be as simple as a sign of aging or a symptom of something. Ensuring that any medical issues are addressed is the first smart step, then try any at-home options or other treatments, and then explore the many incontinence products that vastly improve the quality of life of anyone who struggles with incontinence. They offer discreet protection and enable them to live without worries, embarrassment, accidents, odor or any other unpleasant aspects associated with the condition.

Cindie Hood is a Product Manager at AllegroMedical.com with a core focus on products that help active aging adults and caregivers.