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Incontinence in the Elderly: A New Perspective

Clinical trials and other types of testing haven’t caught up with the fact that we’re living much longer than we were 50 years ago. Trials for new drugs and research on surgical options in particular have failed to include seniors. This means the medical community doesn’t always consider making certain recommendations or isn’t able to make them with as much knowledge for the elderly—they just don’t know well enough how well seniors will respond. This lack of knowledge extends to understanding many of the medical conditions seniors face, especially our oldest seniors.

Two new studies about incontinence in the elderly—the fastest growing population group worldwide—are shedding some light on the prevalence and types of urinary continence seniors face and on creating guidelines on the treatment of urinary continence for this age group.

A European study confirms that urinary incontinence increases with age and increases in severity, and that symptoms of these urinary tract problems have deep negative impacts on seniors’ quality of life. Participants in the study were asked to describe various aspects of their urinary incontinence. Based on their responses, researchers uncovered these statistics that demonstrate how widespread the condition is:

  • 24% of men and 35% of women reported urinary incontinence within the prior month
  • 39% of women and 14% of men reported stress urinary incontinence
  • 35% of women and men 25% of men reported urge urinary incontinence
  • 70% of women and 74% of men reported daytime frequency
  • 69% of men and 49% of women reported at least two nightly episodes of nocturia (waking up from sleep because you need to urinate)
  • 55% of women and 50% of men had overactive bladder
  • Both sexes reported about the same amount of quality of life issues.

The second report detailed the challenges that the elderly face in getting treatment for urinary incontinence. The researchers found that in general treatment is often inadequate. Also, many people just don’t seek help from their doctor for their incontinence. Because incontinence and the need for incontinence products and solutions will grow along with the increasing size of the older population, doctors will need to take a different approach to caring for the elderly and treating these conditions. You can be more proactive in getting the care you need. Because your detailed medical history is a must to identify why you’re experiencing the problem and finding ways to manage it, being willing to talk to your medical team openly helps you and, by extension, other seniors trying to manage the various forms of incontinence, whether stress or urge incontinence or overactive bladder. For example, telling your doctor about all your medications can help him or her see if a prescription for another condition is the cause and could then possibly be replaced.

The researchers’ guidelines for incontinence treatment suggest a conservative approach. That could mean simply using absorbent adult pads if your problem is minor and infrequent. But they also suggest that a more invasive treatment like surgery, if it’s appropriate for the individual and could be effective, shouldn’t be ruled out just because of a senior’s age. You’re never too old to get helpful treatment, and living longer doesn’t mean having to live with health issues that erode quality of life. If you’re one of the millions trying to manage incontinence on your own, even with the best incontinence supplies, check in with your primary care physician or a urologist for more answers.